Wednesday, June 29, 2022

What do the Dairy Queen Blizzard and Herschel Walker have in common?

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Shreya Christinahttps://cafe-madrid.com
Shreya has been with cafe-madrid.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider cafe-madrid.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Depending on what part of the country you live in — and depending on whether, like me, you still print stuff at the office — you might be familiar with “Blinding White Blizzard 78” copy paper. It is sold by Boston-based office supplies company, WB Mason. One thing led to another, one product led to another and before you knew it, WB Mason was engaged in a fierce trademark battle with Dairy Queen. The case is interesting to me, perhaps because of the triviality of the dispute. It’s a classic trademark tractor pull between two parties that don’t want to give up. This isn’t that Ford and Chevy are trying to outdo each other in the electric-vehicle pickup truck market, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. It’s definitely not Coke and Pepsi. But this dispute asks whether a brand of copy paper turning into a brand of bottled water will cause confusion or harm the trademark rights of a company’s frozen dairy desserts.

Let me digress. Where did the WB Mason “Blizzard” trademark come from? I can link all of this back to brand names and politics because there is a political background that ties into the origins of WB Mason’s “Blizzard” brand. But don’t take off your winter coat, because it will be quite a journey to get there.

Perhaps only those of us who lived in Boston during the famous blizzard of ’78 would immediately get the reference to WB Mason’s “Blinding White Blizzard ’78”. It was a real storm of the century that locked up the city of Boston for days, with the National Guard on the city’s borders directing traffic in and out, while snow clearing teams tried to get things back in order. Governor Michael Dukakis, who would later run for president unsuccessfully against George HW Bush, led the city and the surrounding state as a sweater-clad leader who was ubiquitous on television in Boston for a week. This was new at the time, unlike today, where every government official is outfitted with a closet full of custom-branded law enforcement or emergency services clothing, just right for the calamity of the day.

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We dress our politicians in the right clothes and help strengthen their brand. This politician is a government leader and in charge.

US politicians have used personal name recognition dating back to the 17e century leaders. It never has—ever– had the meaning it has today. Politics is about branding. Combine a personal brand and the powerful political brand and you have ‘Instant Candidate’. They are everywhere. Candidates like ex-footballer Herschel Walker are no longer an afterthought for the national electorate to follow. If it’s not the norm, it’s a new norm. Politicians don’t just brand themselves; now they are also noticing their brands. Campaign hats, shirts, buttons and paraphernalia are hardly new. The Smithsonian’s National Archives can document this. But what about turning the red hat “Make America Great Again” into the acronym “MAGA,” which is now essentially a political movement itself. The unlimited power of words to evoke thoughts and emotions has never played a greater role – for better or possibly for worse – than in current American politics.

So in this corner you have WB Mason, who is bottling his own brand of water under the name “Blizzard” to supply to his office supply customers. Those customers fill their refrigerators with WB Mason branded water because it is presumably less expensive than Poland Spring, Dasani or Aquafina. So now a brand name that originated in a legendary local event has turned into a beverage product sold as office supplies.

In the other corner is the creator of one of America’s widely available frozen dairy concoctions, the Dairy Queen “Blizzard”. Blizzard – used for a frozen treat. Probably most people understand the origin of the name.

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When consumers are introduced to “Blizzard” on bottled water, do people start to think there is a connection with the Dairy Queen “Blizzard?” That’s the problem.

The issues are exactly what you would expect. Here are a few interesting statements from the court files:

The “Blizzard treat is available exclusively at Dairy Queen restaurants…[it] is a delicious dessert marketed to families…” According to WB Mason, DQ acknowledged “it has no plans to expand Blizzard to other food or beverage products.”

Meanwhile, WB Mason says it sells its water through WB Mason employees to corporate accounts and/or through WB Mason’s website and catalog… WB Mason’s water is marketed in bulk and sold to businesses as part of the “Break Room” line from WB Mason… Typical audience(s) are professional office supply buyers – placing orders through WB Mason’s website, catalog or resellers.”

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Those basic facts, as well as the existence of many other “Blizzard” customs, include Blizzard skis, Blizzard lighting, BLIZZARD wines, the semi-professional soccer team Green Bay Blizzard, and Blizzard snow plows, all of which are undoubtedly included in the the court’s finding of no confusion across the board.

There’s a simple but important lesson here, one that I’ve kept harping on over the years. You should ask yourself if another company with the same or a similar name could be offended. Do they have enough motivation to try to enforce exclusive rights so that they can claim there is a connection? When adopting a new brand, or expanding an old brand into a new product, the owner should always ask himself these questions. They are fundamental.

Here’s what the Minnesota court has been asked to rule in the case. What they found was: Dairy Queen proved no probable confusion.

How exactly is this Blizzard case like Herschel Walker or any other politician? When individuals applying for a position join a problem or a policy, that can quickly become their identity. So the politician, like the brand owner, must decide whether the risk of being identified with a problem is worth the reward. Even those politicians who wear police clothes unfortunately have to consider whether it is a good political move to associate with law enforcement agencies. Will that become their brand, and more importantly, the image their opponents may constantly associate with them?

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The impact of social media, on top of the 24-hour news cycle that we have lived with for the past few decades, makes it impossible for political brands to completely escape any particular feature or flavor of policy. I don’t know if WB Mason ever considered the Dairy Queen Blizzard when it took his trademark (although I’m sure that matter has been dealt with in court by the attorneys on both sides). But as an office supply company expands its paper brand to bottled water, it must try to anticipate problems that arise later on. A political brand, for exactly the same reasons, must look at every association and realize that consumers (voters) can find every characteristic as the only characteristic that really matters. Otherwise, any other position can be overshadowed by association with that political brand. Consider whether you think people will associate you with the wrong brand, then ask the second question: Even if they shouldn’t, right?

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