What’s Up Wednesday 4/24/19

Offensive Brand Names

Is it ever a good idea to use an offensive word, or word that has a similar pronunciation or spelling as an offensive word as your brand name?  The answer to this question isn’t necessarily absolute, one way or the other, and brings us to the case of the clothing brand FUCT and its trademark difficulties. 

FUCT is a clothing line created by Erik Brunetti.  It’s based in Southern California and was started out of Brunetti’s Venice California bedroom in 1991.  He’s been successfully selling FUCT branded clothing ever since and has gained a loyal following.  These days, his clothing items are sold through his website.  Some items have very limited quantities and are sold out quickly.  Sometimes, items are sold out within minutes of being released.  Occasionally, these items end up on eBay where they are resold for much higher prices.  Again, this is all a result of the cult status that this brand has obtained.

From a branding standpoint, creating something edgy, reasonably risky, and thus memorable is a great idea.  But on the flipside of those positives, there are also some negatives, it’s fairly easy to understand why the US trademark office rejected Brunetti’s application to trademark the FUCT brand.  Under United States trademark guidelines, it is against policy to register trademarks that are scandalous or immoral.   Even without a trademarked brand, Brunetti has been able to build a company that has endured over nearly three decades.  On the other hand, lacking a trademark makes it more difficult for Brunetti to protect his brand name.  FUCT has had difficult time with people selling knockoffs and one of the primary reasons Brunetti seeks trademark protection is for the purpose of better protecting his brand from being copied.  He wants to pursue those people selling knockoff goods on eBay and elsewhere.  He believes trademarking FUCT gives him the best chance to legally pursue offending parties and stop the knockoff clothing.

Getting an offensive brand name approved for trademark is somewhat hit or miss.  Although it’s a more difficult process than another more common example of government approved names, it’s similar in concept.  The possibility of seeing offensive brand names can be likened to what we sometimes see on personalized license plates.  We all occasionally see offensive things appear on personalized license plates and wonder how those submissions made it past human screeners.  This has been a reality ever since personalized license plates were offered by state governments.  Occasionally, someone who may or may not be particularly clever, makes an alternative spelling of a word that is normally deemed offensive and then submits that word to local state government for inclusion on a personalized plate.   Sometimes these offensive names get past the human filters at the state licensing agency and sometimes they don’t.  It all depends on the people reviewing the application.  This is essentially the same thing that happens with trademarking a brand.  Much of the approval or disapproval depends on the person who reviews the application.  Thus, if you do believe you’ve been wronged, you can always make an argument to the licensing agency, or in the case of Brunetti and his FUCT brand, to the trademark office.  The trademark argument likely requires a legal remedy through the courts for the trademark to be issued.   Going this route more often than not is unsuccessful but may be worth the effort if a specific trademark is deemed incredibly important to a business.

Brunetti built a small business based on that memorable brand that has endured through the decades. Even though it isn’t trademarked brand and legally protected in the manner he would like, the name has resulted in a great business with a loyal following.  Therefore, there’s certainly an argument to made that he did the right thing and pushed forward with his branding even with trademark rejection.  Those brand names that are edgy, offensive, and memorable are sometimes worth the effort.

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