PERSPECTIVE: Shield your brand from imposters - before it’s too late

Although we did not dwell on it at great length, last week’s Campaign contained a fascinating news story with important implications for media owners, particularly of print titles.

Although we did not dwell on it at great length, last week’s

Campaign contained a fascinating news story with important implications

for media owners, particularly of print titles.

The story in question concerned a sister Haymarket title, the very

wonderful FourFourTwo (but it could have been about any other title

since the point is the same) which had successfully gone to court to

prevent an alcoholic drinks manufacturer, 21st Century Drinks, owners of

that well-known alcopop Jammin’ (formerly known as Tilt but changed

after Coca-Cola, the owner of Lilt, objected), from launching a beer of

the same name. It won the passing-off action on the grounds that readers

were likely to be ’confused or deceived’ (the judge’s words) into

linking the beer with the magazine, even though the plan was to write

the name out numerically as 442. Of itself, as I can testify having had

the privilege of reading some of the court documents, the case produced

some hilarious moments, such as discussions about team formation

terminology and the difference between 4-4-2 and the Christmas tree.

But the real point about the judgment and, therefore, this column, is

that it cuts to the heart of the issue about the creation of media

brands. This is something all media owners talk fondly about - even here

at Hammersmith Towers - although for some it is more a matter of wishful

thinking than actuality. Naturally, once you have created a media brand,

logic dictates that you then move into the area of brand extensions -

whether directly as in other media vehicles, or laterally as in other

products. One of the best examples of this is Cosmopolitan, which has

both spin-off print brand extensions in the form of Zest and books, as

well as non-print brand extensions into CDs, games, spectacle frames

and, coming to a supermarket near you, low-fat chocolate bars and health


This, however, is where media owners with brand-status titles

potentially get into areas of difficulty. The more a title becomes a

brand, the greater the chance other parties might seek to ’borrow’ its

brand equity. The risk is therefore damage to the brand itself, but it

also inhibits its possible expansion into other areas.

For example, the Financial Times suffered this (and lost the case) with

the Evening Standard’s decision to ’pinkify’ its business section. The

FourFourTwo case is an example of the wider problems. For not only would

442 the drink have created problems with the magazine’s existing

advertising and other co-branding activities relationships with drinks

companies, but it would also have ruled out the possibility of the

magazine launching its own beer brand extension.

Clearly, the circumstances are going to be different for each media

owner, but there is a common lesson: safeguard your titles’ brand values

as zealously as Coca-Cola and Nike do theirs. Otherwise somebody could

destroy your reputation for you.


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