Thursday, September 10, 2009

When cuddly koalas get favoured treatment over scaly seahorses

I saw in today's business news that IP Australia, the authority responsible for trademark and intellectual property registrations in Australia, has knocked back a trademark application from chocolate maker, Guylain, to register its seahorse shape. If you know anything about Guylain, you will know they make ocean-inspired chocolate shapes from a blend of brown and white chocolate.

Guylain chocolate is so aligned with the shapes of the sea that it wouldn't surprise me that if you showed the average consumer a seahorse and asked where you'd go to look for one, you would likely find many replying "in a chocolate box" rather than "in the sea". Perhaps a slightly long bow to draw, but I'm sure you get the point.

This all clearly relates to a discussion about how difficult it is becoming to secure brand differentiation and positioning in a regulated consumer landscape almost paranoid about delivering an advantage to any individual player in the marketplace. God forbid that anyone should be able to dominate a category through inspired branding!

However, it also relates to a discussion about consistency in rulings by regulators. Consider the Guylain decision in the context of an earlier decision by IP Australia to allow Cadbury to register the shape of its Caramello Koala. I have to ask is this some form of specism - a preference for seeing warm, cuddly icons in the marketplace, rather than, arguably, less elegantly shaped and coiffured species?

I say this tongue in cheek of course. But what is the argument for allowing a dominant market player like Cadbury to register its animal shape, but not a lesser (in terms of market share) competitor like Guylain?

Any thoughts on what the alternative rationale to my guess of 'specism' might be?

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