May 14, 2015

Terrible or Genius? general, international, standard company names and marks (lowercase for emphasis)

by Guest Blogger

Last month, I wrote about RadioShack being sold off in pieces, potentially separating the trademarks from the goodwill of the business (i.e., trademark homicide). This week, I read that the same hedge fund that purchased most of the stores last month (Standard General, L.P.), has also successfully purchased the trademarks (and your customer data â another story for another time). Looks like trademark disaster has been averted.

As I reread my post though, I noticed something else in it: I mistyped the name of the purchaser several times. At the beginning of the post I correctly called it Standard General, but by the end I was calling it General Standard. I wouldn't ordinarily call myself out on that type of mistake, except that there are two important trademark lessons to be learned from that mistake.

First, Standard General is a terrible trademark. Think about it. The words "standard" and "general" are so commonplace and devoid of meaning that I can't even keep them straight for 600 words. There is simply no way that an ordinary consumer would ever keep it straight, is there? The words don't convey much to me other than every day, commonplace blah. I simply read them, and I subconsciously disregarded their order.

Second, Standard General is pure genius as a mark. The trademark office is on board, as noted by the issued registration no. 3,468,742.


Let's think about this for a minute it. This is a hedge fund that seeks out to invest in highly distressed assets (i.e., fire sales), aggressively restructures them, and then sells them for a profit. I don't think they actually want anyone to remember their name. Why? It might actually hurt the brands they are turning around. What if they called their company something suggestive of their services, like Buzzard Capital or The Jackal Group? I'll bet everyone would start to remember those names right? But the name might get in the way of their business. Instead, my guess is they are trying to appear to be the most boring, everyday, khaki-wearing investors out there. Sort of a "this isn't a big deal, yeah the target company has some issues, but there is nothing to think twice about here." Their goal is to promote the brands of the businesses they are renovating (RadioShack, American Apparel) instead of the name of their fund.

Or, I'm completely wrong and the name Standard General is just a play on the stodgy names of most major companies in the early nineteen hundreds. General Electric, General Motors, Standard Oil, General Hospital*, American General Insurance, and American Standard just to name a few. If this is the reason, it's clever and funny; I can respect that too. I have heard people say that when these companies came into being their names were selected to give consumers back in the day a feeling that they were getting products from a national brand, offering the same quality for rural customers that was available in the big cities.

There are of course other reasons companies might choose these generic types of names. For some genres of companies, it's almost as though they were all intentionally hiding where even Google's finest searchers cannot find them. There are title insurance companies (e.g., [your state] Title Co), parking companies, taxicab companies, bail bond companies, pawn shops, late night television shows, and payday loan companies.

Check it out. Am I on to something?

So the next time you see a really bad trademark, consider whether it is really genius. What's with late night television shows though? I don't get that one.

*were you paying attention in that list?