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Coca Cola’s trade mark COKE

How safe is Coca Cola’s trade mark COKE?

June 28, 2010

Some time ago Coca Cola registered COKE as a trade mark for soft drinks both in the UK and USA.

So, I was interested to hear from my daughter that the term ‘coke’ is commonly used as a general reference to fizzy drinks throughout the southern parts of America.

On looking into this it seems many people in the Southern States of USA requesting a “coke” do not necessarily mean Coca Cola, but instead any form of fizzy drink, and will generally then specify their request with a statement such as “make it a lemonade”.

Although, currently the reference to “coke” to mean any sort of soft drink seems to be confined to certain States within America, there is anecdotal evidence of this being a growing trend.  Certainly, the use of the term “coke” to denote any cola based drink seems to be widespread in that often when someone asks for a “coke” they are indifferent as to whether they get Pepsi or Coca Cola.

Historical Background

Interestingly, when people initially began to refer to Coca Cola as Coke back in the early 1900s Coca Cola used advertising to dissuade the public from asking for a “coke”.   So in 1913 their campaign slogan was “Ask for it by its full name- then you will get the genuine.”   There was the fear that by nicknaming the drink the brand’s distinctiveness would be diminished, leading to possible genericity.

Despite their use of advertising to encourage people to use the product’s full name, the public still persisted in calling it “coke” so that Coca Cola gave in and trademarked the nickname ‘Coke’.  That was back in 1945.

 Growing trend

Although pop and soda are still the most popular words used to refer to a fizzy drink, “coke” remains the third most used term for fizzy drinks in the USA.

This growing tendency to use “coke” when not referring purely to the brand itself could become a problem for maintaining the COKE trademark.

If use of the word “coke” in the generic sense spreads, the danger is that it will become like the brand “Hoover” which became a generic name for a vacuum cleaner, leading to loss as a trademark.

Although it is difficult to stop the general public from using “coke” as a generic term, that is the task for Coca Cola now – to try to  shield this name from being used generically, and prevent the generic use of the word from becoming  more widespread.   Our research did not indicate that COCA COLA is doing anything about this problem currently.