Friday 14 July 2006

Protect your name

What do McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Consumer Watchdog all have in common?

Well, maybe all three of us are bad for your health and can give you heart problems if taken to excess? I’m sure some store owners and bank managers think that Consumer Watchdog is incredibly unhealthy. We do, after all, regularly give them a hard time, we bother them remorselessly and we do our level best to raise their stress levels at every opportunity.

Maybe we’re just sickeningly sweet and liable to rot your teeth?

Actually I’m pretty sure that we don’t make you gain weight or induce diabetes and I don’t think we should try to restrict our children’s intake of Consumer Watchdog.

So what DO we have in common? What’s my point this week?

All three of us protect our brands. We have all invested much time, effort and money in developing a product that is recognisable, that is respected by at least some of the population and that leads to some sort of business benefit.

McDonalds are notorious for the energy they put into protecting their brand name, their identity and their trademarks. Try setting up your own company called McDonalds even in Botswana and you will pretty quickly find yourselves under fire from their attorneys encouraging you to change your company name, first politely but then with increasing ferocity. They have even been known to get awkward with companies started by people whose name is MacDonald. And don’t think you can come even close to their name. Even just the “Mc” prefix can be enough to attract their attention.

Yes, maybe all of this does seem a little aggressive but I’ve actually got no problem with it. Their food may be rubbish in my opinion, but it is entirely their own invention. They are the ones who have worked for so long to make their name a household one and to “perfect” their revolting product.

The same goes for Coca-Cola, KFC, Nandos, in fact pretty much everyone who has a recognisable identity and it’s not limited to food and drink. All of the stores and suppliers that have familiar names will fight tooth and nail to protect those names.

We at besbw are also committed to protecting our brand name “Consumer Watchdog”. You may have read in Mmegi and other papers that we are having a slight disagreement with another company over their stated plan to use the term Consumer Watchdog. I’m not going to go into the history of the disagreement because it’s all very boring. However it did start me thinking about trademarks, brands and corporate identities.

Now clearly I’m not suggesting that besbw, the company that owns the Consumer Watchdog name is comparable to McDonalds or Coca-Cola. After all two of them are multi-billion dollar companies with turnover greater than some small nations and we are just a multi-million dollar operation (that’s if you convert it to Zimbabwe dollars by the way!).

However the principle is the same. We took the time last year to do what the other two have done, to take measures to protect something we invented and are proud to operate.

Now before there’s any misunderstanding, all we own is the name, not the industry. You are perfectly free, right now as you read this, to set up your very own consumer rights organisation and start lobbying, pressurising and campaigning for change. In fact I would genuinely welcome more consumer rights groups. Every newspaper should have one, every radio station and every TV station should have one too. The more the better. Who knows, we might even get to a situation where consumer groups start competing with each other as well as cooperating to bring about change. I think that would be great for the consumer movement here.

Just don’t call your group Consumer Watchdog, OK? Call it something else. Call it Consumer Forum, Consumer Congress or perhaps even The Consumer Kgotla. (Mmm, why didn’t I think of that last one before?)

The word Watchdog is also free for you to use. After all the Sunday Standard has a column called The Watchdog and that’s just fine with me.

However, the two words together form a recognisable trademark and are ours. Go check with the Registrar of Companies and they’ll confirm it.

One of the fundamentals of both liberal democracy and the free market is respect for property rights. Normally people think that means things like your house, car and cellphone but it’s much more than that. Your business, your designs and even your ideas originally belong to whoever paid for them and respect for the sanctity of that property is fundamental to fair and reasonable business. You should take action to protect them and to prevent someone stealing them from you.

Recently there was some publicity about an ex-employee of KBL who claimed that he owned the recipe for St Louis. However, whatever his role in developing the recipe, the recipe clearly belongs to the company that employed him, that gave him an office and that paid him a salary. How he can even consider claiming that he owns the recipe is beyond me.

Just like I can’t imagine how anyone can think they can use the name Consumer Watchdog!

A final unrelated plea

I can’t be the only one who has seen a whole series of advertisements on DSTV for competitions that only apply to South African subscribers. Last week I saw one that only applied to Gauteng subscribers. Now I really do know that the number of subscribers in Botswana is very low compared to those in South Africa but why can’t WE have something occasionally? If they can afford to offer a huge prize for Gauteng surely they can afford something humble for the whole of Botswana?

This week’s stars!

  • Everyone who has contacted us over the last 2 weeks to offer support and to contribute towards a new idea… Watch this space!
  • Everyone at Vee’s Videos at Molapo Crossing for being friendly, cheerful and bouncy.

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