Category Archives: Branding

Can a company “own” green?

If you’re following this blog, you know I initiated a series of blogs about color in branding.

Now, color has made the business section of the Denver Post.

Al Lewis of the Denver Post ( has written about an upcoming case which should interest everyone involved in branding.

It seems that the giant lawn and garden products company, Scotts Miracle-Gro doesn’t want a competitor to use green in their trade dress. They’re suing TerraCycle to cease and desist from using green and yellow in their packaging and “confusing the market” with similar packaging to Miracle-Gro.

The packaging is not at all similar to my eyes.

I’d download pictures of the respective packages and put them side-by-side except the TerraCycle has used a “gimmick” to demonstrate their environmentally-friendly packaging – used, recycled plastic pop bottles – and they show it’s origin by morphing the TerrCycle label into a pop bottle as you “mouse over”. Anyway, here are the corporate urls of each so you can make your own comparisons.

The point is there is no similarity in type, design, shape or name of the competing products. The only similarity is the color combinations. So can Scotts “own” those generic colors. I’m pretty sure the Pantone numbers are not identical, and they aren’t used in the same proportions.

Now to be as forthcoming as I can, there’s another issue in Scott’s suite – they take issue with the TerraCycle claim that their Worm Poop (yes, that’s what they call their product, probably because of its main ingredient) is superior to the “leading synthetic plant food”. That’s another debate.

Al quotes Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, who thinks “this is more about the fact that we’re taking shelf space at Home Depot and Wal-Mart…than customer confusion”.

I agree. So does a trademark expert and law professor Wendy Seltzer who Al quotes as saying, “No one is allowed to monopolize necessary colors.”  She contributes to an informative intellectual properties blog branders should find valuable at

Although the article didn’t define “necessary colors”, I suspect that means primary, secondary and tertiary colors; the web-safe colors of the internet and the pms colors of the Pantone palettes.

I’ll just bet the packaging issue between TerraCycle and Scotts will never come to trial. At least I hope not.

Martin Jelsema

Color & Branding – Number 2 in a series

Let’s start with a secondary color instead of a primary, just to keep us on our toes.


Orange is the color this week.

Incidentally, the major source of information on individual colors I’ve used to formulate these blog entries is About:Desktop Publishing. You can access the entire color spectrum at

It’s interesting that when I went to the page on “orange” on the website, the Google ads were all about the fruit, oranges. This just serves as a reminder that many words may have more than one meaning or association. In the evaluation phase of developing a brand name, be sure to take that into account.

Anyway, back to the color orange in branding.

Major attributes of orange are warmth, energy and cheerfulness. First of all, it’s a warm color on the spectrum, with red on one side and yellow on the other. It’s also the color associated with our most pervasive icon, the sun.

Orange demands attention but doesn’t scream for it. Thus, though it can be vibrant, it can be a background or secondary color in some palettes. Think about a box of Tide. Yet, as an accent with a complementary or contrasting color, orange will stand out and make a statement. It is not frail.

Examples of orange in branding

Because it’s energetic, and because it’s the color of the very healthful orange fruit, orange can be associated with good health, particularly when combined with a solid green.

Though it’s vibrant, orange also has a “dark side”. It’s the color of falling, (that is dead) leaves, so it’s associated with fall and Halloween. It’s the color chosen by the Fightin’ Gators of of the UofF, my almamater and the bane of the rest of the SEC. But orange is predominantly a cheerful, friendly color.

Medium blue is the color diametrically across the color wheel from orange blue. That makes for a contrasting combination in tension but also provides a pleasing combination. When combined with red and/or yellow, you have analogous colors that form an exciting, warm and attention-getting palette.

And FedEx found the combination of purple and orange to be both exciting and unique. Home Depot’s logo and trade dress is predominantly orange, using white as its partner.

Orange can be associated with the tropics, summer, friendliness, good health, warmth and excitement.

According to Mitch Meyerson, a psychologist associated with Jay Conrad Levinson,s Guerrilla Marketing empire, orange appeals to intellectuals, and it’s a good choice to accent business-to-business communications.

Looks like we started this series off with a winner.

Martin Jelsema


Naming Tips – Number 18 in a series

Damn, I made a mistake. I skipped numbers 18 and 19 in this series. So I’d better catch up. Or more appropriately, retreat and take care of the wounded.

So here goes with Number 18 in the series.

Incorporate candidates from the world of numbers.

Numbers and their symbols have built-in familiarity for most people. There are several approaches to numbers in names. You can make numbers part of the name (3D, A-1, 4-star). Then you can look at number-related words/symbols such as prime, pi, square, cube. The number might be a ranking (1st, First). You might incorporate prefixes (Bi, Tri, Quad), or roman numerals, or Greek characters (alpha – omega). There are also certain associations with some numbers that might be relevant (360 or 32F). Think, too of “counts”: The Tree Amegos, Five Fountains,etc.

Meaningful acronyms might be worth exploring.

If you can adopt a set of initials that already have meaning to your target markets they can be effective. Think MVP, PDQ, NCO. Those sets that have their own associations can work so long as they are positive and relevant associations. This is one of the “swap file” lists you may want to accumulate if you’re going to continually name offerings.

Martin Jelsema

An early branding mistake by duPont

In the early 1960’s, I was a participant in one of the classic branding failures of the era. No, not Edsel. Not nearly as glamorous or as expensive as that one, but equally embarrassing to the brand owner, duPont.

The brand was Telar, the never-drain anti-freeze. I was an assistant account exec on that account while at BBDO. Here’s the story.

For many years the sale of anti-freeze was falling. Why? Because the “new and improved” anti-freezes of the day, and especially the Prestone brand, kept getting better. People discovered they needn’t drain their anti-freeze every spring even though the “experts” and the anti-freeze companies admonished everyone to do so unless they wanted their radiators to rust out.

Dow Chemical developed a new product they called Dowguard, a full-fill anti-freeze. It contained distilled, corrosion-retarding water and anti-freeze mix. Folks had to completely drain their cooling systems and fill it completely with Dowguard and they were told they wouldn’t ever need to drain and refill their cooling systems again.

This worried duPont, and so they developed and introduced Telar.

Now they’d done some research concerning sales of anti-freeze. They found that about 35-percent of respondents did not drain their anti-freeze annually. Another 30-percent drained their own.

Remember, this was circa 1960. Discount stores were just becoming popular. This was a trend anticipating Pep Boys, Checker and NAPA toward do-it-yourself auto servicing.   “Traditional” outlets like service stations, garages and auto dealerships were feeling the pinch.

duPont had a strong relationship with the auto servicing industry. Their entire distribution system for all their automotive products was as strong as any in the industry. Their relationships were very tight and DuPont thought the best way to market Telar was through this strong network and not through discounters and chains. So they only sold through their traditional chain and advertised as such, both to consumers and to the trade. And to make the deal even juicier for dealers, DuPont priced Telar at about 30-percent higher than their regular Zerex anti-freeze.

But dealers, knowing this was a “never-drain” product, feared they would lose sales (especially from the 35-percent who were still visiting their facilities to have radiators drained yearly). So they weren’t enthusiastic partners, stocking only token amounts of Telar, not promoting it and only installing it if customers asked them to.

Consumers who came in asking about Telar (the ones who rely on their mechanic’s advice) were not getting really enthusiastic endorsements. Thus, because of no dealer support and a product that flew in the face of many years of tradition (drain every year), Telar failed.

What duPont  had not considered were industry trends and consumer behavior. There was some arrogance involved. Mighty duPont, management thought, could buck the trends toward discounters and maintain a viable network of servicing dealers. Based on past innovations, they believed consumers would embrace any new product from the duPont labs, even if priced above comparable performing products.

The moral: be sure to scan and interpret industry trends and consumer behavior before branding new products.

That is why I encourage branders to build a branding platform with one of those planks being industry/product category trends, and another being complete descriptions of market segments and supply chain participants, and the factors that motivate members of those groups.

Quite often these planks are overlooked by smaller organizations because of research costs and the time it takes to gather critical information.

But I believe it’s just as essential to the success of a brand as positioning the product or creating the brand’s identity.

Martin Jelsema

Colorful Branding – Number 1 in a series

Without doubt, color is a vital element of branding. Except for a powerful brand name, color is the most important branding element, in my opinion, because of the emotional power of color.

Color invokes associations and set moods. It may be a “subliminal” element in that most people will not consciously be aware of a brand’s color(s) or the associations it evokes. In fact, unless a color is absolutely prominent (and may even have the color’s name in the brand name – GreenThumb, Selsun Blue), most people could not name a color associated with a brand unless its been around for years – think Kodak, Scott’s, Tide and UPS.

The emotions elicited from colors can be greatly influenced by the context in which it appears. For example, green is the color of money and suitable for financial service businesses. But it is also the color of trees, lawns and shrubs so environmentally-conscious brands will probably opt for green. Green is also associated with “green light”, “green horn”, Kermit the Frog and a Jolly Green Giant.

Then, too, colors may signify different associations in different cultures. For the Japanese, white is associated with death, whereas in Western culture it stands for purity and beginnings. Care in selecting colors for a global brand is almost as important as selecting a brand name that “translates positively”.

HGB color wheel

Another factor: most brands have multi-colored visages. So what happens when two colors tend to “contradict” each other? What affect does the FedEx  purple and orange have on target audiences, if any? Just another factor to consider when establishing the elements of your brand.

Then there are other ways to combine and contrast colors based on color theory and the color wheel. These techniques will provide cohesion, harmony, vitality, tension, serenity, and any number of other reactions to  the brand.

So this series will tackle color. I’ll start with blogs about each of the major colors, then speak to color combinations and then to color theory as it pertains to branding.

So please keep coming back to explore colorful branding facts, ideas and opinions, and please let me hear from you about your experiences with color in branding.

Naming Tips – Number 20 in a series

Accumulate a naming “swipe” file.

This may be practical only for those who have three or four naming projects a year: i.e., “professional” namers because it needs time and patience to collect examples from many different sources.

But just like direct response copywriters collect compelling sales letters, it’s a good idea to collect good names and sources of name candidates. Not that you want to copy them, but they can lead to inspiration and connections.

First, you might want to keep a running list of those unique “aha” names you occasionally come across, names like Travelocity, Buzzoodle, Rare Bear, Fitzwell. Over time, that list can become an invaluable “idea sparker”.

Then, you might collect the unusual “last names” businesses could use instead of  the ordinary “Zone” or “Express”. (The newest “fan” name to stay away from: “Authority”. Here are fresh several examples: Cache, Grove, Prime, Yard. I’ve collected over 600 “last names”, and I refer to that list with almost every naming project. Though mostly applicable for naming a business, I’ve found perusing the list can help me intuit product names as well.

  1. Other swipe file contents might include lists of:Prefixes and suffixes
    Meaningful initials (MVP, PDQ)
    Positive idioms and phrases (fast forward, breathe easy, rest assured)
    Family names (Goodman, Weldon, Merrywell)
    Place names
    Active vowels

The best thing about this suggestion is that it’s open-ended. Any list you think might be helpful can be started just by beginning a new page in your “name idea” document. It’s fairly easy to accumulate candidates with a word processing program that allows you to periodically sort them in alphabetical order. At least that helps me feel like I’m organized.

Use your files for ideas and directions. The bigger they get, the more valuable those files become.

A new definition of branding.

Here’s a little different definition of branding. Branding is establishing a two-way relationship by matching your needs to your company core competencies with the needs of specific, selected market segments.

The emphasis is building a two-sided relationship. It’s knowing your prospects and their needs, both physical and emotional needs. It’s fulfilling those needs and helping them achieve their desires.

By finding those segments that you can serve better than your competitors can is the first step in establishing your brand.

The elements of the brand (name, logo, tagline, package design, etc.) and its associations (spokespersons, alliances, media selection, etc.) can be deliberately and specifically tailored once you match segments to competencies.

Now you have a strong foundation for a brand. Segments and competencies are two of six planks I’ve identified as essential in building a brand platform. (The others are positioning/differentiation, analysis of industry and product category, analysis of competitive SWOT, and brand hierarchy.)

But most essential in developing a power brand is the match of market to your strengths so that both company and customer benefit.

Martin Jelsema

Think networks, not markets, when building a power brand

From a branding perspective, I’ve come to appreciate a potent comment by Scott Degraffenreid, author of Embracing the Nude Model – The Art and Science of Referral Marketing. In a conversation several months ago, he suggested we think about networks rather than markets.

No one says, “I’m a member of the market for pink, hip-hop-toned cell phones”, but they’ll passionately admit to being part of a MySpace community of teen-aged girls who adore Eminem. Networks have common interests and might even have an agenda. They are populated by like-minded and like-motivated individuals. Some “reside” on the Internet and some are locally connected.So our goal in branding and marketing is to become part of selected, relevant networks. Don’t try to “manage” those networks or even manipulate them. Just relate in positive ways. Contribute meaningfully to them. Support them in their common quests to achieve whatever the network represents.

Once members “resonate” with you, once they see your goals are their goals, you build trust, and for some, an obligation to do business with you.

For larger companies with national or global distribution and traditional infrastructures, this will be a significant paradigm shift; one that most will not make even if they so desired. Too much baggage. Too many “old school” practitioners. Too few visionaries.

But small organizations, particularly those oriented to local markets, can surely benefit from thinking in terms of networks. Individual entrepreneurs and franchise operators could certainly embrace marketing to networks.

Here’s an example. If I were a dry cleaner with shops throughout a metro area, I might approach schools about helping to raise money for band uniforms or to finance a bowl trip. If I both contributed to those funds and made my shops collection centers, I’d gain recognition and appreciation. I might even clean uniforms for half-price and clean flags and banners for free. I’d not only gain appreciation from band members and their families, I’d probably get their regular cleaning business as well.

The idea of branding on the Internet takes on greater significance if you wish to explore Web2 and the implications for social networking. Here the possibilities become almost limitless. I’ll be blogging about this phenomenon and how it could affect your branding process in the coming weeks.

Martin Jelsema