A registered trade mark (or indeed, set of registered trademarks) is the bedrock of each of the world’s biggest brands. Whether it’s a logo, slogan or other brand assets – these trade marks let people know what a brand promises.
In this ongoing series, our intellectual property specialists look at how some of the world’s most innovative businesses have built world-beating brands upon registered trade marks.
Brand Breakdown 001 Under Armour
In 1996 Under Armour Inc. was founded in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Under Armour have since become known for producing sports apparel, as well as shoes, technology and associated services.
The company began when its founder Kevin Plank had become frustrated with the performance of cotton-based shirts as an American football player. This led to the invention of Under Armour’s first t-shirt using a new fabric that Plank engineered to make athletes more comfortable during exercise.
Specifically, the clothing was worn as a layer underneath athletic outerwear and was designed to help remove sweat from the body. Calling this product “Under Armour”, Plank avoided potential negative connotations associated with its utility – instead focusing on its positive aspect, positing the product as a unique protective layer under athletic clothing.
Under Armour’s offering has since expanded considerably – covering a range of outerwear more generally, and apparel and equipment for a range of different sports.
Since being founded, the brand has risen to a market capitalisation of around $7 billion as a publicly listed company.
The Trade Marks
The centrifuge of this brand in the UK consists of three registered trade marks. These are the word mark “UNDER ARMOUR” (mark UK00002537474 in class 18, 25 and 28), it’s logo (mark UK00002527477 in class 18, 25 and 28) and “HOVR” (mark UK00003261002 in class 25).
The first two marks protect Under Armour’s principal identity assets in; leather goods and sports bags (Class 18); the wider category of clothing, footwear and sporting apparel (Class 25); and sporting equipment and apparatuses (Class 28).
Registered mark “HOVR”, on the other hand, is only registered in Class 18, covering solely footwear. HOVR being a range of footwear produced by Under Armour that include a range of technology (e.g. air pockets in the sole to reduce impact, and Under Armour’s material technology).
Analysis: Messages, Meanings and Markets
When looking at a brand a distinction should be made between:
- the products and services offered under a mark; and,
- the broader meanings the brand promises customers for buying these products and services
Many successful brands in the past have refer to higher-order meanings to achieve this effect.
For example – Apple did not talk about the specifics of their computers, but instead encouraged its patrons to: “Think Different”, and celebrate the “Crazy Ones”. “Apple” as a brand and logo originally references Isaac Newton’s “Apple” that led him to the discovery of gravity. There is also a biblical inference there too.
You get the computer, but then you also become an Apple person – someone who shares the same creative and pioneering attitudes as those the brand proposes. In this way, what we buy says a lot about who we are: to others, and to ourselves.
As previously stated, “Under Armour” had initially simply described the utility of the marquee product – but now, as a trade mark, the name encompasses the entire brand offering.
This expanded offering has, furthermore, been supported by the growth of Under Armour’s patent library – critically examined by PatSnap, here – covering a range of cutting-edge innovations applied to their products.
When the meanings associated with Under Armour (aside from their products) are considered in this way, the registered trade mark can be viewed as an asset that is unique amongst its peers.
Crucially, where other brands had previously placed emphasis on increased athletic output; “Under Armour” stands apart – positioning its meanings were associated instead with increased resilience.
“Armour” does not help you go first or attack with more strength. Instead, it better protects you from damage – helping you resist harm. This meaning is then supported by the utility of the product.
This represented a whole new semantic territory for this section of the market. The rising popularity of personal health activities and combat sports where resilience is essential was the perfect environment for Under Armour to capitalize on this untapped meaning. As such, it is no surprise to see Under Armour gain ground in sporting areas where resilience and strength (both physically and psychologically) are key.
Under Armour’s logo similarly signifies the meaning outlined above. The logo can be perceived in three different ways – in order of abstraction:
- two identical interlinked curves that form a “U” and an “A” – the initials of the brand
- a “chain-link”, as seen in a suit of armour
- (very abstractly) as a human figure with arms and legs in a “lifting”, or “celebratory” position
In each case, the mark figuratively supports the meanings described above, in tandem with the “UNDER ARMOUR” word mark.
Across (a), (b) and (c) – there is a visual sense of balance as well as inward pressure and strength. Furthermore, (b) has a denotative meaning of strength and fortitude by visually referencing chain-link armour. And, in its most abstract (and tenuous) sense in (c), the mark references weight-lifting, or a human figure in a celebratory pose – the consequence of the resilience the product provides.
Crucially, as with the word mark, these meanings are high-order enough to adapt to the progression of Under Armour from a company offering a singular specialist product to once that fortifies its patrons with cutting-edge products across the board.
From a quick review, it becomes clear that – in its two principle registered trade marks – Under Armour has ample bedrock for an innovative athletic apparel brand.
To achieve brand consistency – these core assets would then be followed-up (and not undermined) through a range of other touch-points. This might include things such as:
- Sponsorship of suitable sports events, teams and individuals
- Consistent marketing, advertising, social media and online presence
- Corporate and employee behaviours
Amongst a host of other brand touch points.
For the sake of brevity, these other touch points will not be analysed at this time – but will be explored in further entries to this series.
It tends to be that the world’s most successful brands employ a high degree of consistency across the entirety of their activities and spend a lot of resources doing so. Ultimately, the focus is on creating a brand that is so coherent that they are instantly recognised and trusted – on a world-wide basis.
The key to ensure this activity is successful; is that it is harmonious with the key brand assets – the trade marks. Furthermore, as these are predicated upon registered trade marks – the brand is then strongly protected by intellectual property rights.
In this case, Under Armour’s registered trade marks are a set of brand assets which are as resilient as the meanings they promise to their consumers.
Brand Breakdown 001 Under Armour was written by Dr. Martin Douglas Hendry