The Intangible Assets of Brand

Moore (2003) writes on the notion exactly what constitutes brand and how brand is created by marketers and perceived by consumers. His article in the journal Language & Communication, entitled “From genericide to viral marketing: on ‘brand,'” attempts to portray brand as “an inherently unstable composite of tangible (e.g. product) and intangible (e.g. brand name) values” (331) and he makes use of a Peircean semiotic framework in order to demonstrate the ways in which this is true.

It is impossible to underscore the importance of brands and trademarks in society. Moore asserts “there is little doubt that the centrality and ubiquity of brands and branding is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary experience, across the globe. As we know, products (Coca-Cola), services (H&R Block), experiences (‘the Hyatt Touch’), events of communication (‘Do you Yahoo?’), political leaders (George W. Bush; Tony Blair), whole polities (e.g. Hong Kong), and indeed, wars, are all now being branded” (332). Because of such a wide array of things branding can apply to, however, we’re left with questions of “what difference…it make[s] that the branded product is sometimes a tangible thing (e.g. a can of Coca-Cola), sometimes a set of services in an online ‘environment’ (e.g. Amazon.com), and sometimes an experience in- and of- the world (e.g. a ClubMed vacation)?” (332). Do people encounter language differently depending on what the language they’re coming into contact with is branding: an experience; a product; a lifestyle?

Moore treats brands as conjugations of tangible material things (products or commodities) with immaterial forms of value such as brand names, logos, or images. To be branded, therefore, something must be “partly a thing, and partly language” (334). A brand name “communicates information about the source, producer, and/or type of thing, and can provide quite rich sociocultural and ideological ‘captioning’ for the object” (334). Trademarks, therefore, which are half of the whole equation and used to create brand cannot be separated from the concept of brand itself. The brand, much like the mark or language that forms a part of it, is essentially a form of communication between two parties. Moore notes that “successful branding, then, is successful communication, successful in the sense that it ‘secures uptake’ from the interlocutor(s) in the market, to use the terms of speech-act theory” (335). Brand can be seen as communication since it “summons people to participate in the market” and asks them to act as consumers “in particular ways” (335).

Without a protected brand name, a brand itself cannot exist. Some companies, such as New York-based branding consultancy Interbrand have published results (since 1999) which attempt to assess the value of brand. “According to Interbrand’s John Grace, intangible assets, including brands, can represent up to 97% of a company’s value. This is especially true for major brand corporations including Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, IBM, and AT&T” (337). Corporations may manufacture products, therefore, but “what consumers buy are brands” (338). Perhaps one of the most dangerous things, then, that can happen to a brand is the loss of trademark protection essential to the creation of that brand. “Genericide happens when a court finds that a brand name has lost its source-identifying power and has become just another word in the language, a term identifying not a single producer’s products but the product class to which they belong (hence, ‘generic’)” (336).

Moore cites David Aaker, one of the most cited authors in brand strategy literature, as stating “a brand is a distinguished name and/or symbol…intended to identify the goods or services…and to differentiate those goods or services from those of competitors. A brand thus signals to the customer the source of the product, and protects both the customer and the producer from competitors who would attempt to provide products that appear to be identical (Aaker, 1991, p. 7)” (338). Brand, then, is simply a name or logo, “jointed to a set of regimented associations, with source-identifying indexicals” (339). The concept of “Peircean semiotic frameworks” that deals most particularly with this is Peircean Secondness, which attempts to “[identify] the source-identifying indexicalities of the brand, and reveals how- and where- the client’s product(s) is embedded in the landscape of consumers’ ‘pre-existing’ activites and routines” (343).

Genericness can be established when a word or mark circulates “within the community of users of language in a different way than a brand name, and has acquired a new ‘primary significance'” (344). A generic mark, however, is only the first of a “four-way classification of trademarks and brand names” that is used by courts. These four categories are: (1) generic; (2) descriptive; (3) suggestive, and (4) arbitrary or fanciful, in the increasing perception of distinctiveness, with (1) being the hardest to protect and (4) being the easiest.

What kinds of evidence do the Courts use to establish how language is used by a community? Moore raises the essential question by stating “the question of what counts as evidence is crucial here, since it reveals the wide epistemological gulf that separates the construal of brands by legal institutions as a form of intellectual property from the construal of brands by branding and marketing professionals” (345). Typically, Moore cites Lockhart (1999) as stating: “Evidence of genericness may take the form of direct testimony of members the relevant public or direct evidence of use; consumer survey or poll results; use of the term in books, newspapers, or periodicals or in dictionaries and other texts on contemporary word-usage; use of the term by the trademark registrant or competitors; or any of the preceding together with expert testimony derived from the foregoing sources” (Lockhart 22 as recounted by Moore 345).

At this point, then, “anyone who can show through the use of ‘naturalistic’ observational and other empirical techniques that the speech practices of a definable (sociological) ‘community’ have in fact shifted – that the ‘extension’ (in the philosophic sense) of the term kleenex, for example, now includes a whole group of similar products from many different producers – has shown that the name is circulating independently of the particular product (type) to which it was first attached. The essence of a finding of genericide is exactly this” (346).

Works Cited:

Moore, Robert E. (2003). From genericide to viral marketing: on ‘brand’. Language & Communication, 23 (3-4), 331-357.

Comments

  1. andrewsquires says:

    hey man your work looks pretty interesting. although i didn’t understand everything, i read it haha

  2. I think the brand as a concept is a very small part of what people think the brand represents. It’s mostly down to how the brand is portrayed.