By David Placek
How brand names are not at all but almost exactly like a pair of socks
The joke about things being analogous to socks is that “you change them every day.” Brand names should not be seen that way at all, of course. When you settle on a trademark — after having gone through all the convolutions to create it, research it, register it, and then promote it — the last thing you want to do is change it.
In fact, whether your mark is newly minted or a legacy in need of refreshing, your focus should be on nurturing, protecting, and evangelizing it.
Even so, I realized I have a pair of socks that are, in a lot of ways, very much like a brand name.
When I was 12 years old, my father, who owned his own floor-covering shop, came home from work one day with a half-dozen pairs of socks. They were a green that was almost Army olive drab in color, lightly ribbed and had no packaging at all. He told me that a man had come into his business that day, peddling socks from out of the trunk of his car.
“These socks will never need mending.” That’s what the man told my father. “They’ll never unravel and they’ll never wear out.” Never wear out? What a crock. All socks wear out eventually. It’s what socks do. But the man was so convincing, and the price was so reasonable, my father figured it would be worth it just to have a story to tell. My dad’s story was so intriguing that I wanted some of those magical green socks, too. So he gave me a pair.
The promise of a brand name is much the same. It should never need mending, never unravel, and never wear out.
Even the best brand struggles to live up to that promise. The longer it’s around, chances are it’s going to snag on something. Or start to come apart. Or begin to look a little threadbare.
In the 1950s, Ford Motor Company was staggered when their new Edsel automobile bombed in the marketplace. Coca-Cola suffered when they introduced New Coke in 1985. And Intel shuddered when the first Pentium chips in 1993 proved to be less accurate and not as fast as promised.
In each of those cases, the parent brands soldiered on, backed by companies savvy enough to respond to the negative reactions in the marketplace. All three brands are still strong today. But for every case where a brand keeps it together, there are many that fail, unable to keep the equity strong enough to stay in business, let alone popular.
It’s not enough to simply create and launch a new brand name. Care must be taken to sustain and grow those names, as if they were hothouse flowers exposed to the elements. Constant supervision and maintenance helps to save your company from costly reboots that may turn out to be futile. And it doesn’t hurt to do a little research now and then with people who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid to make sure your brand name is being seen in a way that makes sense.
In short, take care of your trademark and it will take care of you.
Oh, and those magical green socks? Turns out that they’re a lot easier to care for than a brand name. I still have them after 40 years. I’m wearing them as I write this. They have, as promised, never been mended, never unraveled and they have yet to wear out. I’d love to order some more. Irony of ironies: I couldn’t get another pair of these if my life depended on it. Nowhere on my “forever socks” is there a brand name.