Naming Rights

What’s in a name?  Shakespeare pondered that centuries ago and figured out that the thing would smell as sweet no matter what we called it (and don’t ask me to quote the rest of Romeo and Juliet – not one of my favorites).

That quote came to mind this morning as I read a piece on the battle over two spas’ use of the same name.  They’re thousands of miles apart; they don’t draw the same clientele, yet they’re in court over the dispute.  The point?

Yet another instance of digital changing everything.  Pre-Web, if you ran a local business, you weren’t terribly concerned about someone across the country calling itself something similar, even if the business was of the same sort.  In fact, unless you ran a pizzeria named Ray’s in NY you might not be terribly concerned about a similar name across town.

Enter Facebook.  One spa is in Albany, NY; the other is in California.  Now, I’m not exactly sure what these spas’ objectives are for setting up pages on the service, but apparently this is the core of the dispute. Facebook shut down one spa’s page because the other complained about name infringement.  Of course, the suit says that losing its Facebook page has resulted in “lost sales and marketing potential.”

Here is what pops into my head.  First, I’m not sure why either of them cares about people thousands of miles away.  I mean, what’s the likelihood of someone in Kansas going to either spa?  Wouldn’t some sort of hyper-local service be a better asset than Facebook, which doesn’t really target locations since friend circles tend to do that on their own to a certain extent (I’m aware of ad targeting – this is a bit different)?  What about marketing through GroupOn?  Of course I get that Facebook is where your users hang out but I’m not thinking the fans of one will confuse the two.  Worth the legal fees?

If I’m one of these spas, I’d be more concerned about what’s going on in search.  In this case, one spa not properly targeting their ads might drive up costs for the other or push them down in ad positions.  I’m sure you’re all aware of the suits over trademark usage in search – this might be an interesting twist (usually the cases are competitors using your name to sell their product, which is called something  all together different).

Digital has broken down the limitations of geography and distribution to a certain extent.  In this case, it’s not so much trying to impose artificial walls as it is choosing which battle to fight. After all, what’s in a name?

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