Brands, Micro-Trends, Status and Online Communities

This Kat has been away from his domestic lair, attending to several personal matters where even his beloved IP became momentarily of minor importance. On his way home he had the opportunity to get caught up in some reading. One article in the 4 December issue of The Economist, in the Schumpeter column ("The Status Seekers: consumers are finding new ways to flaunt their status") particularly caught his eye. Upon reading the piece, once again, he came away wondering how much of branding is professional applied social science, how much is marketing art, and how much is, well let's say, pie-in-the-sky pronouncements.

The occasion was a summary of research produced by an outfit named "", which is described as a consultancy that peers over voluminous data provided by 700 trend-watchers in more than 120 countries in order to discern micro-size consumer trends. In that connection, the article summarizes a report about the changing manners by which consumers seek to flaunt their status, where micro-trends meet brands. The starting point seems to be that if, 50 years ago, "keeping up with the Jones" was all the rage, in today's more affluent world, people "increasingly seek to advertise their hipness or virtue instead." Some of the examples given are the following:
1. Instead of seeking one's next piece of clothing from a known European fashion house, people search out exotic designs in a Brazilian favela or South African township.

2. A Swedish manufacturer named Bike by Me allows its customers to customize every part of their bicycles.

3. A German fashion house, called Trikoton enables its customers to convert their speech patterns into knitting patterns, thereby enabling the piece of clothing to reflect their respective voice patterns.

4. To snag customers, Tiger Beer provides loyal customers with access to events, while Dunhill promotes a 1930s exotic style (whatever that exactly means within the context of the Great Depression), e.g., eagle-hunting in Mongolia.
5. To enable persons to flaunt the fact that they really care, the Toyota Prius hybrid car makes it clear that is green-friendly, Bed Stu manufactures shoes that appear to have the look of being covered with oil from the Gulf spill, and Mango Radios make a product that is hand-made in an Indonesian village that uses sustainable materials.
6. The Triscuit cracker product of Kraft Foods carried out a promotion whereby it distributed four million packets with basil and dill seeds plus accompanying gardening instructions; a Sheraton hotel in Vietnam has set up a cooking school for its guests, while the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle sponsors a night school for guests at which the latest hit book is discussed. 
Upon reflection, there does not really seem to be much that is novel in substance in of any of these identified micro-trends. Radical chic has been around since the 1960s, customizing products to reflect one's personality has only been limited by the technological means to do, the link between brands and being green is, frankly, all over the place, and a how-to-do manual as an extension of a product line has been around as long as I can remember. What is new, it seems, is the platform, namely the internet, in general, and social networking, in particular (just look at who was named this year's Time magazine "person of the year") .

In particular, reference is made to a data point offered by the PR giant--Edelman, which claims that 82% of Generation Y are members of a brand-sponsored online community. I must confess that I lack hands-on experience here. At my stage of life, I am lucky to be a member of Generation ZZ, and I am not a member of any brand-sponsored online community. But after reading this piece, from the IP point of view, there are least two reasons to become more engaged in this platform.

First, from the trade mark registration vantage, it may be asked whether we should be adding class 41 (or the like) to any application, where the client is already operating, or is considering to operate, such an online site. I would think that we want to make sure there is no possibility that your client's mark can be hijacked for use by a renegade online community.

Second, we need to become more familiar with the manner in which the client's marks are being used within the context of these sites. While there is nothing new with a company sponsoring a platform for the promotion of its products or services, the online community poses a particular challenge. How does one ensure that the site does not result in doing harm to the mark and the brand that it identifies, while at the same time allowing its members the freedom to express themselves and thereby, it is hoped, to create a lasting bond between the person and the brand?

True, this has been a challenge ever since the internet allowed interactivity, but the particular focus of an interactive brand-sponsored online community seems to raise the trade mark stakes in such a situation. We in the trade mark community will have to adjust accordingly.

More on Generation Y here.
Brands, Micro-Trends, Status and Online Communities Brands, Micro-Trends, Status and Online Communities Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Sunday, December 19, 2010 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Everything about trademarks has changed as a result of new technology.

    I first noticed the "change" when businesses starting selecting domain names BEFORE product or company names. A change was clearly in the air because selection of a good domain name requires consideration of different distribution strategies than those required for selection of a good trademark. The latter depends upon finding the most unique; the former requires availability of the most common.

    For years and years, successful businesses marketed their goods/services by building equity in distinctive brands. The strongest trademarks --- those most able to provide a business with a niche in the marketplace --- were completely fanciful, arbitrary, and inherently distinctive (think XEROX, GOOGLE, APPLE). Only relatively wealthy and financially sound companies had the means to craft and build the necessary brand equity and consumer recognition in these novel trademarks to successfully outlast the competition. The more distinctive the brand, the more potential for ultimate market saturation through recognition and exclusivity.

    But... strong domain names are not necessarily distinctive. To the contrary, surviving the competition these days may depend upon owning the most germane and ordinary of source identifiers.

    Consumers conduct key word searches of primarily common,ordinary words to find websites selling branded goods. The addresses for these websites, or domain names, are reported in key word search results as source identifiers---the places to go to get what you want. Because these effective source identifiers can cost as little as $9.99 a year and can be owned by anyone, the owners of, as a hypothetical example only, are now better able to effectively compete with the owners of or
    Moreover, no matter how distinctive the trademark, relatively anonymous websites, found by consumers doing key word searches of the most generic terms, do, in fact, now provide a primary source for end-user consumption of most branded goods.

    As a global IP community, we need to stop thinking that nothing has changed from the good ole' days when those who owned strong trademarks ruled the marketplace. In these days of search engines, facebook, and the ability to operate a website from your living room, consumers are now at least equally in charge - and that must mean a change of perspective, priorities and tactics.

    In a world where existing technology creates value for the most ordinary and common of source indicators, and where each different key word search creates a new marketing strategy, any IP owner that does not yet understand and appreciate what is unique and different in the World of Generation Y --- may already be too late to the party.

    All my best,


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