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International Olympic Committee - Olympic flag

International Olympic Committee - Olympic flagThe XXXIst Summer Olympics may have concluded Sunday, but the International Olympic Committee’s aggressive protection of the Olympics® trademark continues unabated. Like the NFL with the Super Bowl® (that is, “the Big Game”) and the NCAA with March Madness® (AKA “Hoops Hysteria”), the IOC and its U.S. affiliate, the USOC, is ferocious in defending its mark.

Unlike the NFL, however, the IOC has managed to put in place regulations that prohibit sponsors of individuals from publicizing their athlete’s achievements unless the company ponies up millions to become an official sponsor of the Olympic games.

Of course, the IOC should be able to protect the Olympic brand and the income that flows from it, but these draconian restrictions go too far. Most Olympians need the support of sponsors to excel in their sport, and pay the rent. The IOC’s aggressive practices are harming the athletes, the games, and ultimately sporting excellence itself.

Ambush Marketing and Trademark Bullying
A little background on trademark: We’ve all seen merchandise that uses well-known logos without permission. Companies also engage in this kind of “ambush marketing” by connecting themselves to a huge brand like the Super Bowl or Olympics without permission. Obviously, organizations like the NFL and IOC want to defend their mark and should have the right to do so. But some companies use their clout for trademark bullying of entities engaged in legitimate practices. Aggressive trademark protection can become trademark tyranny.

Standard Trademark Protection
Typically, a company or an organization defends its trademark from ambush marketing by sending an enforcement letter to the offender based on the trademark owner’s prior use or registration. Often that letter (and the fear of litigation behind it when a powerful company is involved) is enough to stop the offender’s behavior. If, however, the behavior continues and litigation begins, the defending company would have to prove that the behavior is likely to cause confusion in the marketplace or to dilute the mark, both of which claims require analysis of many factors (similarity of marks, relatedness of goods and channels of trade, intent, etc.).

The IOC’s Special Treatment
Because the Olympic Games take place over a short time, and litigation is often a slow process, the IOC asked bidding countries to enact legislation giving special trademark protection to the Olympic properties to prevent ambush marketing. The Ted Stevens Olympic & Amateur Sports Act established the U.S. Olympic Committee and gave it exclusive rights to use and license various Olympic properties, including the rings and the words Olympic and Olympiad.

As explained by Chanel L. Lattimer in IPWatchdog, “More importantly, the Act allows the USOC to bring civil action against unauthorized users…. In essence, the USOC can seek injunction to prevent the unauthorized use of the Olympic properties … without proving likelihood of confusion.” Whoa. Lack of due process much?

On top of this special treatment, the IOC enacted Rule 40 in 2012, which creates an advertising blackout period for non-Olympic sponsors before, during, and after the games. That means individual athlete sponsors who aren’t also official sponsors of the Olympic Games were unable to leverage their athlete’s greater visibility from July 27 to August 24 of this year.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Violating Rule 40 can result in potentially career-ending penalties for the athletes, so ignoring it is not an option. The prohibition–essentially a gag order–leaves athletes unable to take advantage of their marketability during the most high-profile competition in their sport.

Most Olympians earn nothing for Olympic competition (winners do get a medal bonus from the USOC, though it’s much lower than that of many other nations). The great majority compete as amateurs the rest of the year, so endorsements and sponsorship are the only source of income from their sport. A 2012 study of top U.S. track athletes found that the average competitor earned less than $15,000 per year, including sponsorships, prize money, and grants. (Guess you’ll be living at Mom’s for a few more years.)

Meanwhile, IOC execs are living large. According to Will Hobson of the Washington Post, “The picture that emerges is a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry whose entertainers are, in this country, often expected to raise their own income or live in poverty.” (Some examples from Hobson: USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach makes $362,000 while Team USA triathletes compete for stipends that range from about $20,000 to $40,000 a year. When on IOC business, members fly first-class, stay in luxury hotels, and also get cash per diems: $450 per day for regular IOC members, $900 per day for the IOC’s executive committee.)

Time for a Change
Women’s athletic apparel maker Oiselle may help rein in this bullying by taking on the Ted Stevens Act. The company has long butted up against  the IOC’s restrictions, even publishing a ‘primer’ on Rule 40 last March. Then, this July, the IOC requested that Oiselle remove all images of track star Kate Grace from the company’s social media and desist from using captions such as “She’s heading to Rio” because they amounted to Olympic-related advertising. Oiselle has sponsored Ms. Grace for five years and believes their comments on her successes were simple reportage, not advertising.

Oiselle founder Sally Bergesen wants to fight back and level the playing field so athletes share some of the Olympic revenue. “The way we see it, it’s just not right in terms of how smaller sponsors are being iced out and then at the same time, the USOC is not compensating the athletes. It’s so exploitative,” said Ms. Bergesen to Flotrack.

Coverage of the matter is growing. The Los Angeles Times ran a critical story on Rule 40 earlier this month. Drake University trademark law professor Shontavia Johnson called the IOC out in the Washington Post last week: “I believe these laws have been stretched too far. As currently applied, it’s hard for companies, especially small businesses, to know when their activities are illegal. And it’s increasingly difficult to obtain permission to do the right thing.”

I agree and sincerely hope Oiselle’s Bergesen can build a coalition of smaller companies to challenge the IOC juggernaut and bring about common-sense regulations. We can protect the IOC’s ability to raise money for the games and individual athletes’ ability to raise money to pursue sporting excellence. I’m afraid, however, that this struggle will require an Olympic, that is, monumental, effort.

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BTW, if you’re in the mood for a laugh with your explanation of the IOC’s aggressive stance, this SBNation video should satisfy.

The International Olympic Committee’s trademark tyranny: promoting the brand, the games, the athletes, or the IOC?

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Naming a Company or Product

FragezeichenOriginally published by naming expert Beth Gerber

As any good naming specialist will tell you, successful product naming or company naming doesn’t begin with the creative process. It begins with the development of a successful naming strategy. And that involves asking questions, and lots of them. Here are five of the most important ones.

1. What’s essential to the brand?

Business plans change, technologies evolve, competitors proliferate. When product or company naming, it’s important first to clarify what’s at the heart of your brand that will never change. This will be the foundation for your product naming explorations—and all of your other branding initiatives. Consider key benefits and values, as well as the type of personality you want to project. Then hone it down to what’s most essential, your brand DNA, and let your name grow out of that.

  • Household products based on long-term sustainability? Seventh Generation.
  • Pure and gentle skin care? Dove.
  • Nontoxic cleansers that are fun to use? Method.
2. Who are your competitors, and how are they naming their offerings?

Once you’ve determined what product or industry category you want to be competing in (not always a straightforward exercise), survey the competitive landscape to observe naming trends and patterns. 

  • Are competitors’ names mostly descriptive? Then something more evocative and metaphorical could be powerful. (Virgin Airlines and Orange Bank, for instance, were highly disruptive and differentiating names in their respective industries.)
  • Are a lot of the names in your space two-word compounds? Then a one-word name like Amazon or a coined name like Hulu could help you stand out.
  • Is there a word that keeps popping up in your competitors’ names? Stay away from it.
3. Who are your customers?

Keep your customers clearly in mind when company or product naming: their interests, their language, their dreams, and their temperaments. Your customers may include people from many different demographics, but do your best to select a target group and get to know them well.

  • Wired is a perfect name for a magazine for techies, while Fortune is great for the Fortune 500 crowd and its wannabes. Not only do these names speak to the aspirations of these two demographics—they also speak their language.
4. If you’re naming a product, how will it fit into your company’s portfolio?

Besides communicating about the brand at hand, a product name often needs to telegraph its relationship to other brands in a company’s portfolio.

  • Will this product be part of a family of products that are already named according to a particular naming protocol? (For example, auto manufacturers often use alpha or alphanumeric names: Lexus IS, ES, GS, and LS.) If so, then that’s the convention to follow; this isn’t the time to be original.
  • Is this the first product in what you hope will be a family? Then consider what naming convention you might adopt that will allow you to link future product names together, whether structurally or thematically, and be extendable well into the future. (Kyocera’s Lingo, Deco, Tempo all end in “o,” for instance, and Apple’s old operating systems were all named after big cats.)
  • If it’s an ingredient brand or an upgrade to an existing product, you may not want to brand it at all, but simply append the name with some kind of descriptive terminology (as in Kindle, Kindle Oasis, Kindle Oasis Wi-Fi + 3G) so as not to overshadow the parent brand.
5. In what contexts will the name be used?

Asking this question can often unearth naming requirements you’ve overlooked.

  • Will the name appear on a tiny product or be sold through a medium with space limits for product descriptions (such as the Apple Store)? Then there may be a character limit.
  • Will the name be spoken a lot? Then it’s important that it’s intuitive to spell, and its sounds are unambiguous and distinct.
  • Will the name be used in different countries? Then how it will play in those other languages, both in terms of meaning and ease of pronunciation, is relevant.
  • Will the name will have a descriptor (such as Technologies, Apparel, or Foods) to go along with it to tell part of the brand story, or will the name stand alone? This may not only affect the messaging directions you explore, but also the length of the name and even what letters and sounds you use.
  • Will the name be used as a domain name (or part of one)? If so, remember that you won’t have the luxury of capital letters and spacing to make the name crystal clear (as domain names such as teacherstalk.com, whorepresents.com, and penisland.net sadly demonstrate). And if you absolutely positively must have the exact domain name (and often, if you really think about it, you don’t), then get ready for an exhaustive product or company naming exploration, because finding an available domain name that works for you, or buying one that won’t cost you five figures or more, can be really challenging.

These are only a few of the questions to ask before embarking on a company or product naming exercise. Take your time answering them and thinking through what your naming strategy will be. Although a good naming strategy won’t guarantee a good name (there is a place for creativity and linguistic invention, after all), it can go a long way toward getting you there.

As any good naming specialist will tell you, successful product naming or company naming doesn’t begin with the creative process. It begins with the development of a successful naming strategy. And that involves asking questions, and lots of them. Here are five of the most important ones.

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6046932993_efbaf84fb0_b

6046932993_efbaf84fb0_bThis past weekend, Golden Gate Park hosted a plethora of bands, assorted local food vendors and tens of thousands of people for the annual festival, Outside Lands. The genres of bands vary from alternative rock, electronic, folk, pop, and more to appeal to both Bay Area locals and people from around the world. The names of these performing artists are as varied.

I was lucky enough to attend the festival this year, and here’s what I thought of some of the band names.

Radiohead: Even though I didn’t see them (Zedd was playing at the same time), I really like this name — and their huge fan base must as well. After doing some research, I found the “head” component of their name is taken from the 1986 song “Radio Head,” in a nod to another hugely famous “head” band, the Talking Heads.

Miike Snow: I’ve been a fan of who I thought was just one artist named “Miike Snow” for a few years now, so when three members appeared on the ‘Lands End’ stage I was surprised. The group is composed of three people, and none of them are named Miike Snow, but overall I think this band name sounds pretty cool.

Major Lazer: This EDM (electronic dance music) set was super exciting with high energy both on stage and in the crowd. I think Major Lazer is a great name. The concept matches the intensity of the music and vibes given off by the group while the tweaked spelling suggests their unique approach.

Down and Outlaws: I’d never heard of this group, nor did I know what kind of music they played (after a quick Wikipedia search, I can tell you that they’re a rock and roll band), but I do enjoy the play on words in their name.

Third Eye Blind: When the band played their most popular song “Jumper,” the whole audience sang along. The name Third Eye Blind suggests some sense of mystery and definitely rolls off the tongue. A little research found the band’s name may reference the mystical third eye of the mind or may just have been chosen because it sounds cool.

Grimes: Claire Boucher goes by “Grimes” when performing, which definitely seemed like a good fit. In-between upbeat electronica/ synthpop songs, the artist would lie down on stage or scream high-pitched noises. While I’m not a huge fan of this moniker, she was definitely entertaining to watch and did embody her stage name.

Lettuce: When one searches “lettuce” into the search bar on Google, the green leafy vegetable pops up, which is definitely to be expected. This name doesn’t offer any indication this is a funk band and sounds more like a bad joke. (Knock knock. Who’s there? Lettuce…) Apparently the name derived from their early days when they were always asking other bands, “Would you let us sit in?” “Would you let us play your stuff?”

Overall, Outside Lands was a great musical experience. Regardless of what each band or artist called themselves, a full audience attended every set. From pop icons to slow indie bands, this San Francisco festival offers something for everyone.

This past weekend, Golden Gate Park hosted a plethora of bands, assorted local food vendors and tens of thousands of people for the annual festival, Outside Lands…

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Dad and son robots

Last time in our survey of chatbot names from MobileBeat 2016, we talked about several noteworthy “bot”-less entrants. Today we’ll review a few of the “bot”-iful, including the surprise winner of the first-ever International Botathon.

Dad and son robots

Dadbot & Sonbot

Botender: This San Francisco company’s offering also received runner up honorable mention in the Botathon. It seeks to end the frustration of diners who are unable to get their server’s attention. It can answer questions about the menu, take orders, and even log meals to Fitbit. (The claim is that automating routine tasks frees staff to focus more on service and hospitality, though I’m not sure what service servers will be left to offer other than delivering the food). I really liked this elegant portmanteau of “bot” and “bartender” at first reading, though it does suggest bars far more than restaurants. However, the risk of pronouncing it “Bo-Tender” or “Bot Ender” may hold this one back.

Skoolbot: Young Liam McKinley (only 15!) lead the group that submitted this winner of the Botathon, which enables students who use Google Classroom to interact with other students, look up assignments, check grades, and more. The name is fun, straightforward, with a little bit of “kool.” Great job, kids!

Olabot: Custom bots? You bet. Esther Crawford has just started a San Francisco-based company to create personal chatbots for anyone. Earlier this year, she lost her job and built a resume bot, a chatbot imbued with personality that communicated with hiring managers for her (and landed her three job offers). I love the idea of this bot, but I don’t get much from the name. Hola (“hello” in Spanish) seems the most likely meaning, but the name could also convey ola (“wave,” as in the ocean, in Spanish), olla (“pot” in Latin and Spanish), olé!, a là, or possibly the personal name Ola.

hands textingAccompanying the explosion of “bot” names in the first wave of chatbots has been (you guessed it) a surge in “chat” names. ManyChat, WeChat, Polly Chat, as well as the gazillion social media and messaging apps that use “chat” (Snapchat being the 800-pound gorilla there) will quickly exhaust the use of this word part if they haven’t already. So if you are thinking about trademarking “chat” or “bot” in your product’s or company’s name, snap it up soon. It’s probably too late.

Last time in our survey of chatbot names from MobileBeat 2016, we talked about some of the noteworthy “bot”-less entrants. Today we’ll survey a few of the “bot”-iful, including the surprise winner of the first-ever International Botathon.

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White nougat with pistachios

White nougat with pistachiosGoogle has announced that its Nth (that is, 14th) iteration of Android will be called Nougat, continuing its confectionary naming trend.

For the first time, the company invited the public to submit suggestions for the new Android name. It clearly intended for the N successor to Marshmallow to continue the edibles trend. (The previous names were all sweet-related, and the submission site displayed names such as Nectarine, Nutmeg, and Nachos written on Post-its.)

The company earlier explained its naming convention this way, “Android is the operating system that powers over 1 billion smartphones and tablets. Since these devices make our lives so sweet, each Android version is named after a dessert.” Fair enough.

But what about nougat? For the few of you who don’t know, nougat is a sugar or honey paste, often containing nuts or fruit pieces. The confection is thought to have originated in Italy in the 15th century and developed several versions (white, brown, chewy, crunchy, chocolaty, nutty) common in Europe and the Middle East. Americans will be most familiar with it as the fluffy stuff inside 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, and Snickers.

Despite public and pundit criticism of the selection, I think Nougat is a good choice for the company.

The word comes to us ultimately from the Latin nux (“nut”) through the Old Provençal nogat to the French nougat. The word is exactly the same in German, Portuguese, and Finnish and has a similar sound in Germanic languages, Hindi, Japanese, Arabic, and Slavic languages including Russian. So without question, Nougat will be the most linguistically international Android version name.

Another plus for this choice is the “new” sound embedded in the word. Though this is really only in play for English speakers, it’s a powerful subtext. The brevity of the name is also a positive. Previous Android versions had some pretty unwieldy handles. Ice Cream Sandwich is crazy long, and Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Marshmallow are rather big, though tasty, mouthfuls.

The downside of this name is its apparent lack of familiarity, cultural significance, and general belovedness. If the outcry after the announcement means anything, Americans don’t really know what nougat is or how to pronounce it. I’m not sure who these folks are–I clearly recall nougat listed as a feature in 3 Musketeers ads as a child, but maybe my love of that candy caused me to pay special attention.

Culturally, nougat may not resonate with younger Americans as much as earlier versions Jelly Bean or Lollipop but I would think a good deal more so than Gingerbread or Éclair. As to pronunciation, in the French, one does not say the t, but I don’t think most English speakers will know the word’s origins, so I don’t get the problem. I guess the real question is does Google want to focus on significance in the U.S. or be more international?

Many Android fans were lobbying for Nutella, which certainly has a great sound, but I have to say I’m quite partial to using generic names. Google may have chosen KitKat because there were few choices for K (Kiwi? Kumquat? Key Lime Pie?), but this plug for a low-quality chocolate bar from Hershey (the US producer) / Nestlé (the producer everywhere else) left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was not in favor of Nerds for the same reason, plus it is not a well-known candy, tastes gross, and the name is just too on the nose.

Nectarine was another fave and would have been great–with Kiwi, Lime, and Mango before it–if Google would open up the naming convention to fruit as dessert. Maybe their next product line…

Google has announced that its Nth (that is, 14th) iteration of Android will be called Nougat, continuing its confectionary naming trend. …

Despite public and pundit criticism of the selection, I think Nougat is a good choice for the company.

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