For four years British TV has had an advertising campaign for comparethemarket.com where there are constant jokes about a comparethemeerkat.com website that is confusing the public (and for which a fake website has been set up, and which has a clear link to the real site).
The cute little animals, who talk in the adverts, have certainly helped the financial website, which helps customers compare costs in insurance and other products, build up its market share.
I had a look for trade marks, where Class 36 includes insurance. In December 2008 there was a British trade mark application for comparethemeerkat.com and also for Aleksandr the Meerkat and they have also registered Orlov, Simples, and several along these lines:
Believe it or not, that is UK trade mark 2560681A, for Class 28 (games etc.) It is Alexsandr Orlov in his usual dressing gown, who keeps on saying ‚Äúsimples‚ÄĚ. Compare the Meerkat was only applied for 8 months later but for many other classes. The campaign had begun in early 2009 so the first trade marks predated it.
These are all in the name of BGL Group, who own the comparison website. The FAME database, which the British Library subscribes to, tells me that it is a private limited company which in 2012 had a turnover of ¬£418 million and a profit before tax of ¬£85 million, a useful 20% margin. There were 3,703 employees. There was only one shareholder, Budget Holdings Limited, a Guernsey company.
You are not supposed to have a trade mark that describes what the business is ‚Äď you can‚Äôt register ‚ÄúLettuce‚ÄĚ if you grow lettuce, or ‚ÄúHotels in London‚ÄĚ if you are about London hotels ‚Äď and ‚Äúcompare the market‚ÄĚ is surely within this category. That is why descriptive domain names can be more valuable than trade marks if your advertising is intended to drive people to the website. BGL apparently, tried to get around that problem by registering in 2007, before the meerkat campaign, a series of marks such as this one:
Possible objections along these lines form part of what is called absolute grounds, with other exclusions including using generic phrases used in the business, praising the product (surely nothing else compares qualifies ?) and blasphemy.
This is distinct from relative grounds, where a trade mark application might be rejected because it is confusingly similar to a registered mark.
Recently there have been new advertisements where a well-known comic explains to his perplexed assistant that there is no possibility of confusion between the wording compare the market and compare the meerkat. They could have been on difficult ground if someone applied for compare the meerkat, but they had already, shrewdly, registered that phrase.
According to an amusing (and informative) article in the American journal Advertising Age (28 September 2009), How did a meerkat bowl over Brits ? It‚Äôs simples, the campaign, by advertising agency Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, was devised to avoid the high cost-per-click of the word ‚Äėmarket‚Äô as people come to the site via priced advertising on Google. It cost $8 per click for the word ‚Äúmarket‚ÄĚ, but only 8 cents for the word ‚Äúmeerkat‚ÄĚ. Their twelve month target was reached in just nine weeks, and their market share went up 76%, so that Go Compare felt forced to respond with a campaign about an opera singer annoying people. Fascinating stuff !
Jason Lonsdale of Saatchi and Saatchi was quoted as saying ‚ÄúThey‚Äôve done something unexpected and a bit bonkers, and it's paid off. A campaign based on talking animals and a pun sounds like a terrible idea, but it works.‚ÄĚ There has also been extensive use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
How did I find the article ? By carrying out a search on Business Source Complete, another database we subscribe to. Not everying is available for free on the Web.
The adverts keep coming, with more than 30 so far. Most can be seen on Youtube.