Online Brand Protection: Don’t Get Crazy

Previously we discussed some of the issues surrounding the protection of your online brand. It is true that there are people out there who intend to misuse and abuse brand associations that others worked hard to create, and there are steps to take to limit them. After all, hard work should be protected, and there’s no reason to let someone trash your brand just because you didn’t consider every single eventuality.

However, there is such a thing as overzealousness. Planning ahead is good, but the Internet is a dynamic and fluid place that has its own rules. It is in many ways a living entity, growing and evolving as more input is provided and refined by the collective efforts of billions of minds working together, or even at cross-purposes. Attempting to outright control the Web is an exercise in folly, and we provide a clear example of when going too far can go wrong.

Living Language

Language is an odd thing. It requires a certain degree of agreed definition otherwise it’s worthless. So consider the interesting case of Adobe Systems and the trademark usage document they recently published on their site. In short, the document goes into the various approved ways to use the names of their products such as Reader, Acrobat, and Photoshop, as well as ways not to use them.

Adobe’s Photoshop and other Adobe products have been driving forces on the Web, leading toward greater standardization of document and file types. As the popularity of the format grew, the language surrounding them adapted.

Creating an image using Photoshop became ‘Photoshopping,’ and then just, ‘shopping.’ These words entered into the popular use of language on the Internet fairly quickly, leading to Adobe’s decision to publish a trademark guideline document. Now, before going further, this is both an example of good and bad efforts to protect a brand.

The Good

The document does clearly state that these are guidelines for official promotional uses of the Adobe trademarks. This is their legal right – having trademarked the term, they can provide information on how they are to be appropriately used. Adobe is clearly making an effort to ensure their brand is presented in the spirit they intended.

The Bad

The document addresses some issues that seem somewhat nitpicky, and outside the realm of official trademark uses. The portion on ‘don’t abbreviate Photoshop to PS’ in particular doesn’t seem like something that would come up in official promotional material, and really comes across as a jab at popular forum culture.

As we’ve discussed before, people on the Internet are not robots, but people with a sense of individuality, their own rights, and quite frequently an ironic sense of humor. Again remember the infamous 4chan protests of Scientology. These were not a protest in the traditional sense – these users got together to do this as a lark. The average Internet user doesn’t respond well to patronizing commentary, and such efforts usually backfire.

Something Old, Something New

The phenomenon we are discussing is not unique to the Internet, either. Before the Internet was created, people were calling every tissue a Kleenex, despite this referring to only one brand out of many (Puffs, Scott, etc). Making a photocopy is still called Xeroxing in many circles, because Xerox made the first major breakthroughs in office photocopying. Both of these occurred before the Internet provided the tools to speed the process along, so consider how much harder it would be to arrest the process now.

Measured Steps

Again, the Adobe document provides both some good and some bad elements. Having information available is never a bad thing, especially where official trademarks are concerned. Letting people know how you want them to use your trademark on official documents is a good step. Instead of requiring time to be wasted contacting people and looking the information up, they can go to your resources page and find what they need without a hitch. You’ve made their lives easier and given your brand a positive image.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for letting pop culture have its way. People might call it Xeroxing, but if they’re buying Canon machines has anything really been lost? Make allowances for the whims of pop culture, and consider contacting your user base.

When you’re putting your trademark document together, run it by your audience for consideration. Put up a comment page and ask for feedback, jokes included. Then you may just find you have the most honest evaluation you could have ever asked for, free of charge.

Copyright ?? 2010 Enzo F. Cesario

— Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. It makes sites more findable and brands more recognizable. For the free Brandcasting Report go to or visit our blog at

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

View all contributions by

Search Engine Veteran - Enterprise SEO & Small Business Entrepreneurs. Advisor to startups for pre-launch optimization SEO Audits & consulting.