It's nearly New Year's Eve: Why "Tipsy" is such an undesirable mark

Sometimes this Kat feels compelled to discuss trademarks other than in strictly legal terms. Several years ago he did so in explaining why “COFIX” was his trademark of the year. This time, however, he comes from the other direction: what happens when he finds a mark troubling, even if it will pass legal muster. And so it is with the mark “Tipsy White” for… you guessed it, white wine, as produced by a local winery. Forget the word “white; our focus is on “Tipsy”.

So why does this Kat find the mark troubling? It's all about its connotation in the context of wine products. So let's start with the fact that Tuesday night is New Year’s Eve, or Sylvester, or whatever name is given to that period between December 31st and January 1st. New Year’s Eve is marked by parties, which inevitably involve alcohol.

This means that New Year’s Eve is one of the most vulnerable times of the year for accidents caused by drivers who should not have behind the steering wheel. If there is any date on the calendar for which collective concern about overconsumption of alcohol is especially acute, it is New Year’s Eve.
                                                                                 Leave the party like this

Which brings us to “Tipsy”. Merriam-Webster defines the word as meaning “unsteady, staggering, or foolish from the effects of liquor”, or, as another definition of the term more simply puts it, “slightly drunk.” However you look at, “tipsy” means overdrinking in light of one’s personal capacity to do so without impairing his or her judgment and reactions.

Consuming alcohol is a social activity spanning millennia; done in reasonable quantities, it can enhance one’s social experience. But done to excess, it can lead to vehicular tragedy. So, for this Kat, tipsy is an undesirable outcome of drinking alcohol. That does not mean that we should ban the drinking of alcohol, but it does mean that we should not be extolling its possible undesirable effects.

Against this backdrop, this Kat is mystified by the adoption of “Tipsy White”. For sure, the branding of wine, like any consumer product, is a challenge. What message does the company want to send via its brand? Should the brand emphasize the quality of the wine product (the better to charge a higher price), its provenance (the better to differentiate it), or suggest the experience that one can expect in consuming the wine?

If the focus of the branding is on the experience, there is a fine line that needs to be navigated, because of the possible negative side effects of wine consumption. But whatever the nuances in fashioning the message, there is a clear red line that the message should never cross—from enjoyment to (even mild) inebriation. With all due respect, “Tipsy White” crosses this line.

No wine brand should be suggesting that in drinking wine, one can expect to become “tipsy". Whether this will be so either because the taste of the wine is so irresistible or the alcohol level is so potent, is left unclear, but it does not matter. The branding message is unacceptable.

This Kat can already hear the pushback:
Come on Kat, there is nothing illegal going on here. A brand holder is free to adopt whatever name and mark it wishes; the consumers and the marketplace will decide on whether the choice is good or bad.
                                                                                       .... and not like this

This Kat’s retort is that, in our current cultural moment, there are values, in addition to legal concerns, that should play a part in the exercise of one’s IP rights. Something like this has been taking place for a decade with respect to corporate responsibility. There, more and more commentators, and even market participants, are rejecting the narrow neo-liberal position that companies exist solely for the benefit of shareholders in favor of taking into account the interests of other stakeholders in the society.

A similar concern should be brought to bear on the adoption of a new brand and the message that it conveys. Whether “Tipsy” is registrable on legal grounds (and let us assume that it is), there is also a broader context which should be taken into account. Social concerns matter.

Interestingly, the "small print" adjoining the mark on the bottle states that the producer maintains an "ecological vineyard". That is all for the good. Still, even if the vineyard is taking steps to be ecologically responsible, the message being sent by “Tipsy” is undesirable. We all know, without being told, that overconsumption of wine can lead to inebriation. There is no reason to encourage it.

A safe New Year’s Eve to all Kat readers, especially in front of the steering wheel.

By Neil Wilkof
Pictures by the author

It's nearly New Year's Eve: Why "Tipsy" is such an undesirable mark It's nearly New Year's Eve: Why "Tipsy" is such an undesirable mark Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Sunday, December 29, 2019 Rating: 5


  1. Sorry, Neil, but instead of making a (once again, patronising) tirade, this time on this mark, don't you think that in any case 'tipsy' referred to wine and alcohol would lack distinctiveness or would be considered descriptive?

  2. Interesting post! I see your point against 'Tipsy' for white wine; intoxication should not be advertised for. However I'd like to challenge your assumption that the trademark would be legal.

    In my opinion, one could use your argument to oppose the trademark based on the absolute ground for refusal or invalidity of article 4.1 f (trade marks which are contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality) of the trademark directive. Especially after Vigeland. Since I accidentally broke all blogpost rules by e-mailing you this directly I already know you considered this option and came to a contrary conclusion yourself. I'd like to add that the CJEU proved in Spiegel Online, Funke and Pelham that it'll stretch EU legislation as it sees fit to come to a (from its point of view) just result, avoiding any reasoning that falls outside of the scope of the articles of the – in those cases – copyright directive. I would imagine it would do the same in a case like this. Or how do you foresee the social concern be taken into account to reach a refusal of a trademark that is registrable on legal grounds? As you can hopefully tell, I'm having a lot of fun with your post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter!

  3. Neil,

    Your humour is drying up. Time for a glass of wine.

  4. I don't know if the writer is from the US, but the article adopts a non sequiter that is often heard in that country, i.e. that inebriation inevitably leads to drunk driving. To state the obvious (which the writer seems to have ignored) a few glasses of wine will make anyone tipsy, regardless of the trade mark on the bottle, but it can't lead to drunk driving if the car stays in the garage.

  5. This is patronising and frankly incorrect. Whilst the author may consider being tipsy undesirable, I know I speak for many for whom being tipsy is, in fact, a desirable effect of alcohol consumption. Why a brand should seek to distance itself from this I do not know - there is no reason why a brand should feel the need to agree with the author's views on the matter. Perhaps leave the question of whether it is desirable to the brand owners and those buying the product.

    There is, quite simply, no "clear red line" as suggested by the author. It is a personal decision and nothing more.

    Secondly, as pointed out by another commenter, there is also no link between drinking and driving. Yes, people drink-drive and this is unacceptable. However, many more people drink and refrain from driving. The choice to drive is separate to the choice to drink. Let's not suggest otherwise.

    I look forward to the blog refraining from misdirected preaching in future.


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