Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Alphabet Soup Crucible

BMW just lost its lawsuit seeking to enjoin Infiniti from using the standalone letter "M" in marketing for its models, based on the rationale that Infiniti's marketing of its M35/45 dilutes the Motorsports brand at BMW (responsible for the M3, etc.).

When I first read the following on, I was about to write a scathing critique of BMW:

"Several months after BMW won an injunction against Nissan to prevent the Infiniti brand from badging its cars as 'M', Motor Authority is reporting that a Canadian court has ruled in the latter's favor. BMW had argued that Infiniti was peddling "inferior and more modestly priced" cars and was tarnishing the prestige of its M brand."

But after following this dead link to the Motor Authority website, and then manually searching out the real story (here, by the way), the tune changed. The fact is, this was a gross oversimplification by Motive, which really missed the point of the suit. Badging is not the issue. BMW was fine with the names M30, M35 and M45, as Infiniti has used thus far. The issue was the way Infiniti was advertising the cars, with the solitary letter M, which could be argued lends ambiguity to the message, creating the possibility of confusion with BMW's M division.

I was checking out Motive at the behest of AutoBlog, which proffered it as a new alternative to the more traditionally focused mainline print and online mags, like Car and Driver and Winding Road. This site is aimed at the tech-savvy young-un like myself, who, in AutoBlog's words, "doesn't seem to need the page turning (virtual or not)."

Well, interesting idea, but if in actuality it's run by a bunch of slackers who don't bother to actually read the stories they purport to summarize, then I say, "No, thanks."

Okay, back to the real story. While I think there is legitimate complexity to be considered in this suit, I'm still glad that BMW lost. Had they prevailed, it might have opened the door for infighting among industry players over similar model names. Sure, it might be idiotic for a brand like Lincoln to name a sedan the LS and a crossover the MKX, since this does create some confusion. But it should be up to the industry to police itself on these matters, especially since the party that often ends up "injured" by this foolishness is the unestablished brand that shot itself in the foot in the first place.

Does BMW realistically think that those pining for an M5 would have second thoughts because Infiniti has worn out the letter on its more pedestrian mid-sized sedan? To suggest that a company can lay claim to a letter is as absurd a notion as me trying to buy the rights to...a letter! At the moment, I really can't think of a better example than this.

Sure, if Infiniti made a deliberate attempt to hijack BMW's brand equity, naming one of it's products...I don't know...the M3, this complaint would be supportable in a court of law. But as it stands, BMW's claim needs more evidence that there is demonstrable benefit or harm to one party, and that just isn't forthcoming.

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