Cannabis Trademarks: Choosing a Mark that Sells

Cannabis trademark lawyers We write consistently about the importance of choosing your trademark carefully: pick a name that won’t get you sued, make sure your mark isn’t merely descriptive, make legal use of your mark in commerce, and so on. One topic we don’t typically delve into is the more subjective aspect of choosing a cannabis brand name, which entails how consumers will react to and perceive your mark. We’re lawyers, not brand strategists, and we generally try to avoid doling out this type of advice. But some interesting pieces have been published lately on the subject of what makes a good (or bad) brand name, and we would be remiss not to pass on some of that information to our clients and blog readers, many of whom are in the early stages of building their cannabis companies.

The IPKat, whose blog we’ve touted before as a highly informative and entertaining source of intellectual property news, wrote last week about “tronc,” dubbing it the “most bizarre rebranding of 2016.” Tronc, formerly known as the Tribune Publishing Company, the third-largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., is a moniker for “Tribune online content.” John Oliver had some great commentary on the re-brand, and James Surowiecki of The New Yorker magazine broke down why the name is so awful, as well as what makes a brand name great.

Corporate branding is a business unto itself. Large companies spend millions of dollars re-branding and developing new brand names for products. In general, names “should somehow evoke the fundamental qualities that you hope to advertise.” The New Yorker piece provided some prime examples of this tenet:

There are various ways a corporate name can seem apposite. In the case of existing words, connotations are crucial: a Corvette is a light, speedy attack ship; Tesla was an inventor of genius. Made-up names often rely instead on resonances with other words: Lexus evokes luxurious; Viagra conjures virility and vitality.

The piece then explored an idea laid out in Plato’s dialogue Cratylus; phonemes in a name can convey meaning, and that there is sometimes a connection between meaning and sound. Research on phonetic symbolism has shown this theory has some merit. Surowiecki notes:

In one experiment, people were shown a picture of a curvy object and one of a spiky object. Ninety-five percent of those who were asked which of two made-up words – “bouba” or “kiki” = best corresponded to each picture said that “bouba” fit the curvy object and “kiki” the spiky one. Other work has shown that so-called front-vowel sounds, like the “i” in “mil,” evoke smallness and lightness, while back-vowel sounds, as in “mal,” evoke heaviness and bigness. Stop consonants – which include “k” and “b” – seem heavier than fricatives, like “s” and “z.”

And according to research, phonemic associations appear to be consistent across languages. Surowiecki cites a study that showed that “people who ate ice cream called Frosh (big, creamy vowel sound) liked it better than people who ate the same ice cream under the name Frish (icy, watery).” And though “tronc” is meant to convey a company that is “light, fast, forward-looking and unburdened by the media industry’s past,” it ultimately comes off as “heavy, slow and dull.”

Branding is a powerful tool, and it has the potential to either elevate or anchor your cannabis. It’s important to keep in mind not only the legal requirements for cannabis trademarks that we write so extensively about, but also the more subjective and visceral aspects of a brand that ultimately lead to mass consumer appeal.