Product Managers Know How Valuable A Product Name Is

Coke product managers are fighting for the rights to "zero"
Coke product managers are fighting for the rights to “zero”
Image Credit: Daniel Go

As a product manager, you know just how important the name of your product is. We spend a great deal of time trying to come up with the right name that will match the product development definition for each of the products that we manage. Our goal is always to create a name that will capture what the product does, be memorable, and in this confusing age of the internet be unique enough that we can brand it. That’s why it can be very important for us to take the time to watch other product managers when they try to create a valuable product name. At Coke-Cola, their product managers are struggling to show that they own the rights to a very popular name: “zero”.

The Problem With “Zero”

Over at Coke-Cola they seem to have fallen in love with the word “zero” as a part of a product name. They currently have a diet soda named “Coke Zero” as well as “Sprite Zero” and “Powerade Zero”. However, as you might have guessed, this is causing a bit of a branding problem for Coke-Cola. They don’t own the rights to the name “Zero” and so that is allowing the competition to create their own “Zero” named products. A good example of this is Dr. Pepper’s “Diet Rite Pure Zero” product. Product naming confusion never looks good on a product manager resume!

Coke-Cola has tried to get trademark protection for the word “zero” before. Canada recently rejected Coke-Cola’s request for a trademark to the common word “zero”. One of the reasons that their request was rejected was because their main rival, Pepsi, had opposed the move. Likewise, back in 2008 Coke-Cola had tried to trademark “zero” in the U.K., only to have this request rejected. Once again, part of the reason for the rejection was because of issues raised by Pepsi. It’s now time for the Coke-Cola product managers to make yet another attempt at getting a trademark for the word “zero”. This time they’ll be trying to get it in the U.S. They have tried to do this before back in 2007. However, back then the Dr. Pepper – Snapple group objected and their request was turned down.

The reason that the Coke-Cola product managers are going after a trademark for the word “zero” so hard is that if they were to be successful, then they could more easily sue imitators. If they are once again unsuccessful in getting a trademark, then they may end up looking at a lot of competitors and the result of this could be that their brand becomes diluted.

What Coke Is Going To Do About “Zero”

Getting a trademark for the word “zero” has become more and more important to Coke-Cola over time. Their Coke Zero product has been selling very well lately. This is important to Coke-Cola because the overall diet drink market has been decreasing for the past few years. There are many different reasons for this decline; however, one of the biggest is that consumers have started trying to avoid artificial sweeteners. Some studies have linked artificial sweeteners to different types of cancer, but government studies have shown them to be safe.

Where things start to get a bit weird is that consumers have started to avoid drinks that are labeled as being “diet”. However, the same avoidance has not yet hit drinks that are labeled “zero”. This is a bit odd simply because the zero drinks often contain the same artificial sweeteners that the diet drinks contain. In the past year, sales of Coke-Cola’s Coke Zero product increased by 6% while at the same time sales of Diet Coke fell by 6%.

Coke has been marketing its Diet Coke product towards women. However, its Coke Zero product has been marketed more heavily towards men. The Coke Zero product is sweetened with two different sweeteners in order to give it a different taste from Diet Coke. Getting a trademark on a single word can be very hard to do. In their filings, Dr. Pepper pointed out that there are currently 32 different products whose name contains the word “zero”.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers we’d all like our products to have names that jump into our customer’s minds when they think about our products. Our product manager job description tells us to spend a great deal of time trying to come up with names that clearly communicate what our products do and why a consumer would want to buy them. Over at Coke-Cola they have several successful products with the word “zero” in their name and now they’d like to be able to trademark “zero”.

Coke-Cola has three different popular products that contain the word “zero” in their name. The problem that they are now running into is that they don’t own the trademark to the word “zero”. They have been turned down for trademark protection for the word “zero” in Canada, the U.K., and the USA. Their rivals, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper, have pushed back against Coke-Cola’s attempt to get a trademark for the word “zero”. Coke is now once again trying to get a U.S. trademark for this word. If successful, they will be able to sue imitators, if not then their brands may get diluted. Zero drinks are still selling well even as diet drinks start to lose market share. There is not that much difference between zero drinks and diet drinks. It may turn out to be very difficult to get a trademark on a single word because it is already used in a number of other products.

The Coke-Cola product managers need to try to get a trademark for the word “zero”. The products that they have that use this word are just too valuable to not try. However, it sure looks like their chances of being successful are fairly slim. What this means is that they will need to have a back-up plan for what they should do if they are not successful in getting a trademark. They will need to make sure that we all think of “Coke Zero” when we heard the product name “zero”.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What can Coke-Cola do to get customers to associated “zero” with their products and not other products?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we think about all of the exciting product manager jobs that are out there, one of the ones that always seems to come to mind are the people who are in charge of the big soft drink products. One of the largest is Pepsi and those product managers must be working hard every day to try to keep the market share that they have and win even more. However, it turns out that the company, Pepsi, has a bit of a split personality when it comes to their product development definition. They have a very successful beverage half but they also have a very successful chip half. What are those Pepsi chip product managers up to?