Slogans can be protected as trademarks. However, in practice it is often the case that a slogan does not meet the requirements for registrability. So what is a good and protectable slogan?
Slogans can be extremely powerful communication tools. A good slogan is easy to remember and carry powerful information (real or perceived). Politicians often resort to simple slogans, rather than trying to explain complex issues in detail. For example, Make America Great Again (used by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump) and Take Back Control were used efficiently to attract the people’s attention and to reduce complex ideas and plans to easily understandable and conveyable message.
The criteria for getting trademark protection for slogans are exactly the same as for other types of trademarks. In order to be registrable, the slogan must be distinctive and not descriptive of the product or service.
In practice, slogans often quite directly describe a product and service or are just simple marketing expressions. Examples of slogans rejected in the EU include “FIND YOUR WAY” for navigation systems or “BUILT TO RESIST” e.g. clothing and stationery. The first of these tells the user completely directly about the purpose of the product, while the latter tells the user directly about the properties of the products.
Slogans rejected in the EU also include e.g. the following:
- MORE THAN JUST A CARD -> customer service statement
- WE PUT YOU FIRST. AND KEEP YOU AHEAD. -> customer service statement
- SAVE OUR EARTH NOW -> value statement or political motto
- DRINK WATER, NOT SUGAR -> inspirational or motivational statement
- PIONEERING FOR YOU -> value statement
A slogan can be considered distinctive especially if it
- has a play on words
- has elements that it make it imaginative, surprising or unexpected
- has some particular originality or resonance
- requires a cognitive process or requires an interpretative effort to understand
- has unusual syntactic structures
- uses linguistic and stylistic devices, such as alliteration, metaphors, rhyme, paradox, etc.
Here are some examples of registered slogans in the EU:
- IT’S NOT COOL, IT’S WARM (for clothing and hats)
- THE FUNDAMENTAL LAYER OF CONFIDENCE (for underwear)
- WE LOCATE THE WORLD (location and tracking services)
Excellent slogans also include “GIVES YOU WINGS” by Red Bull, “LET YOUR FINGERS DO THE WALKING” by Yell Ltd (Yellow Pages) and “OBEY YOUR THIRST” by Sprite (The Coca-Cola Company). All of these slogans have the elements mentioned above.
Sometimes it is not even necessary to have a slogan that can be registered. A descriptive slogan works very well with a brand name that is original. For example, if a brand name is a completely invented word and it is not possible to deduce what kind of product or service it relates to, the use of a descriptive slogan can be a good and practical solution. An example of a good descriptive slogan combined with a distinctive brand name is “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest,” launched by Kodak in 1888. Conversely, if the brand name is on the descriptive side of the spectrum (for example, Hotels.com or TripAdvisor), then a distinctive and imaginative slogan works very well.