A recent brouhaha has erupted between a company the actress, Jessica Alba, is affiliated with that sells eco-friendly products for toddlers and a company built on somewhat humorous Twitter posts written as if from the thoughts of a toddler. The company Ms. Alba is a part of, The Honest Company, has decided to sue the much smaller and less funded company, The Honest Toddler, for use of the word “honest” and targeting the same/similar marketplace (new parents).
Protecting Brand Image
Now, to be sure, protecting one’s brand image in the market is essential. Companies spend and expend significant resources to develop shopper/consumer perception of their products and services and want to ensure that competitors are unable to use their “Goodwill” in the marketplace to create counterfit products or confuse the prospective shopper intent on purchasing one brand into selecting another through duplicitous means.
For instance, the brands, Johnson & Johnson Q-Tip (cotton swabs), Heinz Ketchup (tomato-based condiment commonly spelled “Catsup”), and Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex (facial tissue) have worked hard to protect their products’ iconic images and the ways they are referred to (choosing specific words that are substitutable for the product itself). However, this situation seems far different.
Lawyers Running Amok
It is a fairly common practice for corporate attorneys or legal counsel for companies to vigorously defend their clients patents, intellectual property, and brand images. Competitors that violate those are open to litigation and possible legal consequences for encroaching on the company’s legitimate business opportunities. Yet, this scenario likely happened by an attorney doing a web search for other companies using, “honest” in their name and trying to claim that “The Honest Company” alone can lay ownership to that. So, a website that is based on humor and silliness and was not selling eco-friendly products (though, they sell books or other media products) was having to defend itself and explain how it is differentiated, not likely to be confused for The Honest Company, and should not have to relinquish their name.
Unfortunately for Jessica Alba (who likely was not a party to the decision to initiate the legal proceedings), her connection to The Honest Company has led to a firestorm of reaction against a Hollywood Starlet bullying a much smaller (but possibly more popular) company. Generally speaking, shoppers will rally around an underdog. Even moreso, if the underdog is a site that entertains, makes people laugh, and is focused on toddlers and infants, the feelings of support will be stronger.
Not How to Get Out of It
The Honest Company offered that in exchange for The Honest Toddler to relinquish their trademark to them, they would allow the owner, Bunmi Laditan, to have access to it (but not ownership, so it could be revoked at any time). Bullying a company in this way has not caused Ms. Laditan to back down at all.
At this point, the “win” for The Honest Company seems to be greater awareness of their company and plenty of “free” media attention. However, in a curious turn of events, their efforts have been almost unanimously panned. Not only are they being mocked and scorned for their tactics, but they have actually tried to leverage the exact thing that they are accusing The Honest Toddler of doing. The goodwill of The Honest Toddler is being hijacked for the purposes of The Honest Company.
Jessica Alba will likely have to make many “mea culpas” to extricate herself from this public relations horror show. Her company will have to work to repair the image it was so staunchly protecting (and now shoppers will wonder just what image they wanted to maintain!). The only confusion that arises is, who thought this was a good idea?