The advertisement on the back cover of this month’s issue of the Columbia Journalism Review struck me as astonishing. Here it is:
Remember, CJR is a magazine targeted at journalists and journalism educators. So let me get this straight. Kimberly-Clark has spent a substantial sum of money to place an ad exhorting journalists to help protect their brand by ensuring Kleenex is only referred to as "Kleenex ® Brand Tissue?" Does this strike anyone else as insane? Or is this to be seen as a shot across the bow — hacks, here’s your fair warning, and if you don’t refer to Kleenex (excuse me, Kleenex ® Brand Tissue) by its proper moniker, you risk being sued?
I’d be interested in knowing if this ad made others uneasy.
My wife and I were discussing this a while back. It is generally taught in marketing courses that Kleenex built such a successful product that sheeple consumers confuse the brand with the entire product category, referring to various types of tissue paper but always remembering the brand name "Kleenex".
Evidently, it looks like people have become too loose and fast with the intimate brand identity such that "kleenex" is now a generic term for "generic tissue paper". Since sales have been slipping since the early part of this decade, Kimberly-Clark is in damage control mode for what was arguably one of their flagship brands. What you're seeing is a subtle attempt to remind the people that write copy and articles to update their style-guides so that the _true_ brand name is recognized; nevermind the fact that they let it conveniently slip by when sales were strong.
This ad should make everybody who writes uneasy; it's a sign of a turning tide against the Kleenex brand rooted in falling sales, and consumer packaged goods companies will stop at nothing (good or bad) to get back on top.
It starts with attempting to influence public sentiment… insistent correction letters sent to editors may be the next step. Suing would be a drastic option, but I'm sure it's on the table within their carefully calculated multi-year scenario planning specs.
You have no reason to be paranoid. The advertisement is not about suing people for misuing the name, it is about strengthening the identity of the trademark so that it continues to identify the source of the goods and not just generic facial tissue. Journalists and writers are one segment of the population that have the widespread opportunity to use various brand anmes and trademarks in their work. Educating them as well as the public to the fact that the trademark is not a generic term for the product is important.
Would you have every newspaper calle a new york times, or every university called a columbia? Of course not. But whenever we call a search "googling it" we dilute the value and meaning of the trademark. Would a TV network like to see their company name suddenly be the generic term for all television?
I think it is more than reasonable for journalists, and journalism educators and students to understand a little about trademark law and learn to properly use trademarks in their work.