Procter & Gamble’s attempt to connect with a millennial audience by trademarking acronyms such as WTF, LOL and NBD has raised eyebrows, but the practice of laying brand claim to everyday slang is not as unusual as it may seem.
P&G has filed to trademark LOL (laugh out loud), WTF (what the fuck), NBD (no big deal) and FML (fuck my life).
Initially reported in AdAge, the news has drawn the attention of global outlets such as the BBC and Bloomberg, which have questioned if owning such colloquialisms will really end entice a younger customer base.
However, the conglomerate is not the first company to attempt to brand everyday slang.
“Trademarking colloquial language is nothing new – McDonald’s somewhat depressingly trademarked Maccy D’s, for one – and other than it being an interesting headline, I’m not sure there’s not much to see here,” said Rich Leigh, founder of Radioactive PR.
“A quick search of the US Patent and Trademark Office shows that there are multiple other live trademarks for the term ‘WTF’, for instance, across a handful of goods and services categories, including hand tools and fashion.”
Indeed, there have been 246 trademarks filed for LOL or phrases containing LOL, 147 for WTF and its offspring, 71 for NBD and 61 for FML. Many of the files have been labelled as ‘dead’, meaning the application was ‘refused, dismissed, or invalidated by the office’ – all potential outcomes of P&G’s attempt.
Leigh added: “I can understand that the suits at a big corporate entity like P&G even being aware of slang is jarring, like when your mum asks if you’d like to be in a selfie (and then asking somebody else to take the ‘selfie’), but bless them, they’re trying. Whether it helps them hoover up all that sweet, sweet MilleXZial cash remains to be seen, but that’s no doubt their intent.”
David Born, director of entertainment licensing firm Born Licensing, agrees that P&G’s interest in the acronyms is driven by a millennial targeting strategy that a number of brands are actively undertaking.
"This also appears to be the reason why we are seeing emojis almost everywhere we turn, whether on product or in advertising,” he said. “We recently worked with Just Eat who licensed emojis as part of their Real Reviews campaign, and have a number of other advertisers that have shown interest in using emojis as a way to communicate with their target audience."
Melissa Robertson, chief executive of Now, is cynical that the tactic will work, however: “WTF P&G! They must have a GSOH if they really think they can claim ownership of generic text language IMO. WTF is going on when marketeers become that greedy? Are they going to sue our Whatsapp groups for using their owned language?
“FWIW, I think it's ridiculous. Don't make me LOL.”