A few trademarks come to mind when people think of certain products. Want to keep your coffee hot all day? Put it in a thermos, better known as a genuine Thermos® brand insulated beverage container. Got the sniffles? Reach for a kleenex, legally known as Kleenex® brand facial tissues. By the way, did you know that they come in Anti-Viral, Ultra Soft, Everyday, Lotion and Expressions® styles?
The marketplace is full of brand names that are misused as a catch phrase for an entire product line. There are also a few dozen that have lost their brand name status because they became ‘generic.’ Escalator, aspirin, yo-yo, zipper; even words like kerosene and heroin were once valid trademarks.
So I’m fascinated by the daily battles of the folks at Certified Angus Beef. They’ve built a successful brand over the years. It’s become so successful that keeping it safe from predators is something only a rancher with a few hundred calves in wolf country can truly appreciate.
The problem first caught my eye when I read a press release from north of the border, touting their new Angus product. I called my friend Steve Suther who does press work for CAB to congratulate him on a new partner and ask for more info.
“It’s not CAB,” he said with a touch of annoyance in his voice. “It’s Angus but not Certified Angus Brand!”
Whoops. Time to apologize and step back.
Afterwards, I quickly noticed McDonald’s Angus Burger (Note: no little ® or the words Certified and Beef, a sure tip off that CAB is not involved) and Arby’s Ultimate Angus (Same note).
While I’m sure they’re both fine products, the folks at CAB underscored that they were not involved in those programs. They gave me a list of approved vendors and it was an impressive group of top quality organizations. There are 81 restaurants in the Chicago area that have CAB products on their menu, places like Salpicon, Hard Rock Café and Grill on the Alley. In my hometown of Kansas City, there are 37 CAB restaurants including Peppercorn Duck Club, J. Gilberts, Jack Stack and Smashburger.
I was curious about the CAB brand. How did they build it to a point of popular acceptance that it has almost attained “genericity” and how did they plan to defend their hard-earned turf? I had a chance to fire a few questions at John Stika, Certified Angus Beef’s president, about the situation that every successful marketer in a similar position loves and hates.