Can brands Trademark Common Phrases?

One of the biggest companies in the world, Proctor & Gamble, thought that they could trademark common millennial internet lingoes such as LOL, WTF, and FML. Apparently, the brand thought this would help attract young customers and help the brand restore its lost market share. As bizarre as the marketing strategy sounds, it’s a debate for another day. However, this does raise an interesting question of whether brands can trademark commonly used phrases and words.

Does Apple ring a bell? The techno-giant creators of the iPhone hold a trademark registration over their brand name. So, yes, common words and phrases can be a registered trademark if there is enough proof that the mark demonstrates a distinctive identity to help consumers recognize the phrase/word with a particular product or service.

How Phrases can be a lucrative brand Asset

Apart from the brand name and logo, several other elements contribute to defining a brand’s identity such as colours, phrases, tunes, etc. For instance, Nike’s ‘Just do it’ is a classic example of a common phrase trademark that has been used effectively to increase brand recall through their numerous marketing strategies. For a brand, taglines and phrases can add significant value to the company’s identity and can be a valuable brand asset. For a brand, phrases can be a huge advantage to capture their audience, connecting with a new target audience and increase brand recall. Common phrases as a part of a brand’s identity can tell a little bit more about a brands personality and attitude, helping people relate to the brand and making the brand’s products and services more desirable. Therefore, it’s only logical to secure a trademark registration for the same. Several big brands have exclusive trademark registrations over their taglines.

Multiple Advertising personas

While it’s not possible to change the brand name often, a brand can send out multiple messages through different taglines and phrases. With the changing times, brands might want to give out different messages to their audiences. Alternatively, a brand might want to position itself differently in different locations. For instance, over the years, beverage-giant Coco cola has changed over 40 taglines such as ‘taste the feeling’, ‘open happiness’, ‘Make it Real’, etc. Interestingly, Pepsi adopts different slogans around the world to connect with the local audiences. So, to get exclusive rights of use in the ATL as well as BTL Ad campaigns, companies choose to trademark their taglines and phrases.

Closing Thoughts

While applying for a trademark registration for your brand’s phrases and slogans, certain common mistakes can be avoided. For instance, to register a phrase or a tagline as a trademark, it must be used as a trademark. Meaning, the phrase should be used to distinguish a brand’s products from another. Mere sentences meant for entertainment, information or marketing communication cannot be trademarked. Also, non-use of a Trademarked phrase or slogan might lead to cancellation or abandonment of the mark, leaving it open for other brands to trademark. Further, trademarks have a limited-period validity and must be renewed regularly.

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