Zumba is a dance fitness program that has taken the world by storm. As mentioned last week, it has become many people’s favoured way of getting fit and is now one of the biggest branded fitness programs in the world.
A lot of Zumba’s success is in its choice of name. Imagine if Zumba had been given a different name; imagine if the company had opted for a less distinctive name.
People are often drawn to descriptive names that tell the world what kind of activity or product the business behind the name offers. If the founders of Zumba had gone with this approach, they could have ended up with a name like ‘New Latin Dance’. Not only is this a boring, impersonal name, but it is also legally ineffective as discussed in this blog.
If you think about it, a descriptive name is the equivalent of not giving something a name. New Latin Dance does not sound as good as Zumba, but it’s not just about whether a name sounds good. There are also powerful legal reasons why a descriptive name should be avoided. The wrong name would limit a business’ development too.
Names matter because they are the way in which the law protects a business against various unfair competitive practices. Specifically, the name is key in determining the extent to which you can control use of a name. The law does not give a business much control over who uses a descriptive name. It’s free for everyone to use.
Therefore, names that describe the activity of the business, such as New Latin Dance, are not capable of functioning as a trademark. The practical impact of this would be felt by a Zumba type business because it would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop unlicensed providers of its classes.
But even if the founders had chosen a less descriptive name, opting for one that was suggestive of the activity, and capable of being trademarked, they would still have found it difficult to control use of the name.
While suggestive names can be an extremely good choice, they are unsuitable for some business situations. For a Zumba style business which has ambitions to extend its reach into other areas as Zumba has done, a distinctive name is essential.
So, the question how effective a given name would be for your plans depends on your plans. The point I want to emphasise is that a name raises a number of legal issues, and should never be finalised without consulting a brand lawyer.
Where a name leans too far in the direction of descriptiveness, bear in mind that even though you may secure a trademark over it, you may find it harder to enforce your rights. You may have to spend a lot of time and money, and even then find it difficult to prevent others from using your name. That is why the EasyGroup spend far more money on litigation than does Ryan Air.
Why does such control matter anyway?
Through having a name that is highly distinctive and trademarking it, Zumba is able to control who uses its name, meaning it can license its programs so that those who want to provide Zumba classes must pay it a fee.
Zumba has become much more than just a dance program. As mentioned, the choice of name has contributed to the company’s success giving it excusive rights through trademark registration. The company’s ability to trademark its unique name in a number of categories is the reason why it is able to generate additional revenue from the brand.
How seeking an early trademark contributed to Zumba’s success
Not only did Zumba choose the right kind of name, but if it had failed to register a trademark when the dance took off, the rapid success of the dance could have rendered its name generic, jeopardising the founders’ chances of registering a trademark.
For similar reasons, Microsoft nearly lost the chance to register its Windows name, having waited five years to file a trademark application, by which time it was considered ‘merely descriptive’ in relation to computer software, nearly destroying Window’s brand equity. Microsoft eventually secured a registration, but would a new company have had the resources of Microsoft to pursue its case?
Significance of a trademark
Without a trademark, anyone could have freely used the name Zumba in relation to goods and services, meaning Zumba could not have required people to pay a fee to offer Zumba dance classes. The upshot would have been that Zumba would have remained a small scale short term business rather than the massive brand that it’s become today.
This demonstrates how the value of a brand is in its name. From that, licensing and other opportunities flow.
If you don’t have a name that can be trademarked as a word, or if your name leans too far in the direction of descriptiveness, consider rebranding because it’s the name that opens up possibilities to create valuable assets. The name is key to reaching your goals if they involve achieving a big scalable business.