Take it away and tank ‘er away, um TANQUERAY

Tonight we TanqueraySteve Baird, who for my money is pretty much the best one doing this on a regular basis these days, has this great post up at Duets Blog mainly on the topic of brand “verbing” and genericization:

Diageo, the Tanqueray brand owner is currently running billboard ads in the Twin Cities as part of its “Tonight We Tanqueray” ad campaign. A couple of years back when the campaign first was announced, Diageo explained it this way:

“One of the world’s most awarded gins, Tanqueray London Dry has just launched a substantial new global campaign ‘Tonight we Tanqueray’, positioning Tanqueray as the drink to set the tone to an evening, inviting consumers to start the night right.”

Did you notice the verbing of the Tanqueray brand and trademark? Nancy Friedman over at Fritinancy did last year. As risky as verbing can be for some brands, as we previously have discussed extensively herehereherehere, and here, Diageo appears to have gotten this one right, making a number of choices consistent with our earlier checklist for mitigating the risk of genericide and avoiding a complete loss of trademark rights.

Read the whole blog post.  Beyond “verbing,” Steve also addresses the brand’s trademark registration strategy and its uses of non-traditional marks.

I did have a couple of thoughts in response to another thing Steve says about the verbing question:

One of the non-legal consequences of using TANQUERAY as a verb in these taglines is that consumers naturally will fill in the blank on what the brand means to them so that they can ascribe meaning to the tagline. I suppose this invitation for engagement could be good or bad, depending on how the brand is perceived. Given the tTonight we Tanqueray - Tonight we Raise a Toastitle of this blog post, I have filled in the blank for TANQUERAY to be synonymous with TOAST or CELEBRATE. What does the brand mean to you?

Well, one thing is this:  The screen grab at right is, in fact, from the Tanqueray.com website, and it suggests that , rather than extending an invitation, Diageo is prepared to answer the question itself:  To Tanqueray, they say, is “to raise a toast.”


I think Steve was right and whoever did the website is less right.  “Raise a toast” is positively lame, and hardly fits with the dynamic graphic image of the various ads being used in conjunction with this campaign, such as the one above and other that Steve’s post includes.

Other thought:  Granted that Diageo has a smashing campaign on its hands, is it really so clear that it has gotten the risks of verbing — i.e., the resultant genericide of a trademark, of which Google is such a classic modern-day example — so very right?

Steve linked to his very thoughtful earlier post on criteria for using verbing without losing secondary meaning.  Here’s that link again, and here are Steve’s criteria, interrupted by my reactions to what I see of the Diageo ads:

1.  Make clear to consumers that the action suggested by the brandverb (e.g., Googling or Vanguarding) cannot be accomplished without using the branded product or service (e.g., Google or Vanguard)

Let’s give them this one.

2.  Build the verbed brand into taglines, slogans, and/or logos that reinforce point (1) (e.g., “Get Culverized,” “Googling is Impossible Without Google” or “Vanguarding Can’t Happen Without Vanguard”);

I don’t think we can give them this one, however.  The tagline is pretty “generic” here.

3.  Federally register the form of the brand name serving as a brandverb (e.g., Vanguarding) or the tagline, slogan, or logo containing the brandverb (I’ve Been Krogering);

This one is a +1 for TONIGHT WE TANQUERAY, but while I agree with the value of this component of the strategy I am, typical of anything involving trademark registration, something of a skeptic on the weight to be attached to this factor.  It’s good to have a trademark registration, yes, because you can write to Bob’s Soda Pop and demand that they not do ads that say, “Tonight we Bob’s Soda Pop.”  With a registration, that puts a little pop in your threat to Bob.

Trademark lawyer Ron ColemanBut if Bob pops back, you’re going to have pretty much the same problems you’d have without the registration, once the defendant negotiates the shallow speed bump of the presumption of distinctiveness that comes with that circle-R.  The value of this seems limited to the general issue of trademark maintenance and enforcement, not to genericization through verbing, because the latter has little to do with infringement but rather the weakening of the essential brand value of the mark by introduction of it into speech as a purported “verb.”

4.  Create and publish trademark and brandverb use guidelines that reinforce points (1), (2), and (3);

Definitely worth a try.  Not everyone has to drink what you’re pouring, however.

5.  Work with dictionaries to make sure that any verb listings are consistent with point (1) (e.g., “to search for information about a specific person through the Google search engine“);

Okay, sure.  Whatever!  Not sure how we have any idea about the status of Tanqueray in the dictionary yet.

6.  Send friendly letters to publishers and media outlets that don’t appear to appreciate point (1) from the context of their brandverb references;

Good idea, but I have no idea if this has happened yet.  Keeping in mind that when it does happen, that means that your brand-building-through-verbing campaign was a successful operation but the patient died on the operating table.  But I don’t think it’s happened here yet.

7.  Respect that the majority of the relevant consuming public will decide the meaning of the brandverb and whether it has lost distinctiveness through genericide, so closely and regularly monitor their views; and

Another good idea, also for later on.

8.  Adjust tactics to achieve point (1) when it appears (7) is trending negatively.

Well, right now I bet they’re selling a lot more Tanqueray than before, because the ads are stylish, arresting and memorable, which presumably matters when you want people to buy your gin, or whatever it is.  Moreover, as Steve points out, the word TANQUERAY is weird and unusual enough that it’s never really going to become a synonym for having a party.

And maybe that brings us full circle to reconsider Steve’s first criterion, i.e., “Make clear to consumers that the action suggested by the brandverb cannot be accomplished without using the branded product or service.”  That is true for Google.  Sure, you can use lots of search engines, but you haven’t done your job of searching for something on the Internet until you’ve googled.  Whereas no matter what, there’s no chance that any significant percentage of the world’s English-speaking population is going to link — here it comes — inextricably the concepts of Tanqueray gin and celebrating, raising a toast or even, sorry Diageo, mixing a martini.

That, in fact, is the main reason that the verbing here is more than justifiable, it’s the right business decision.  It is likely to enhance the  TANQUERAY brand and very unlikely to pose a risk to the TANQUERAY mark because, ironically, it’s small enough to get away with verbing without risking genericization.  That’s not necessarily the case for the GOOGLE type trademarks, because they define genera. As I said a few years ago when criticizing the twitchy-sounding “MasterCard card” business:

Band-Aid, Kleenex and Xerox flirted with genericness because they were early and dominant entrants in categories they actually created and “owned” for years before other brands made a dent in their domination (see here for Band-AidKleenexXerox).  In contrast, MasterCard presently holds a mere 27% global market share for “general purpose” charge cards.  With all due respect, MasterCard is in no danger of becoming a generic term for “credit card” — even though, yes, it has the word “card” in it.

If we can say this about the trademark for a brand as big as MasterCard, it’s certainly true of the TANQUERAY mark.  As it is, gin itself is already a niche category, and by the looks of it the people who actually drink the stuff appear to care sufficiently about makers and varieties that verbing is a very low risk exercise.

madmenmartini-e1338827024433By serving up the verbing, TANQUERAY seems likely to stir, but not shake, its trademark rights in the only way that matters in the long run: building overall consumer recognition, i.e., secondary meaning — the magic elixir in that brand-building cocktail so eagerly sought on Madison Avenue.

Make mine a double!

By Ron Coleman

I write this blog.