What’s in a name? In the business world, a company’s name is a major component of its brand identity. Throughout the years, many companies have seen their brand names transformed into generic terms. (Aspirin, escalator and zipper all were once trademarked brand names.) After “google” (the verb) was added to several major dictionaries in 2006, Google (the company) made an effort to avoid a similar fate by issuing a plea to consumers via its official blog not to use its trademarked name in that way. To companies such as Google, fighting the misuse of a brand name is about more than hanging on to a trademark—it is about protecting the brand’s reputation.
At least two vendors in the fitness industry—Mad Dogg Athletics and Zumba Fitness—work hard to safeguard their brand names from misuse.
Although some people may consider the use of Spinning as a generic term for indoor cycling as a sign of a successful brand, John Baudhuin says this type of generic use can cause problems for the brand. Baudhuin is the founder, president and CEO of the indoor cycling brand’s parent company Mad Dogg Athletics Inc., Venice, CA. For example, several years ago, a fitness industry organization distributed a press release describing the results of a study that showed that “Spinning” could be too intense for beginners. The problem was, Baudhuin says, that the classes observed for the study were not actually Spinning classes.
“They were using someone else’s bikes, someone else’s program, weren’t using heart rate monitors and weren’t using a Spinning-trained instructor,” Baudhuin says. “Our instructors are taught to stress the importance of working at the right intensity and are trained to address the needs of beginning exercisers. Using our brand to describe an indoor cycling class that was improperly done was clearly crossing the line.”
Mad Dogg’s intellectual property firm spends “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” policing the use of its marks and chasing down infringers, Baudhuin says, adding that the company has a full-time, in-house employee whose chief responsibility is to send cease and desist letters to clubs, individuals and manufacturers who attempt to take advantage of the brand’s reputation for quality by using the terms “Spinning” or “Spin” to describe programs or equipment that are not legitimately associated with the brand.
Its brand is Spinning’s most valuable asset, Baudhuin says. Mad Dogg’s efforts to crack down on those who use the Spinning brand improperly are not motivated by greed but by goodwill and the company’s goal of offering a fun, effective and safe experience for consumers.
“When you go to an authentic Spinning class, you’re given a level of assurance that the instructor’s been properly trained, the instructor understands the safety procedures, how to get people properly set up on the bike, how the class is supposed to be structured and so on,” Baudhuin says.
Although several club owners have become belligerent when confronted about their improper use of the Spinning brand name, Baudhuin says the policing efforts are important to Spinning licensees.
“Quite honestly, many of the clubs that we work with really appreciate what we do as a brand owner,” Baudhuin says. “Probably the greatest source of policing in many cases is the very clubs we work with.”
Jason Buratti, general counsel and vice president of business affairs at Zumba Fitness, Hallandale, FL, says he is not concerned that the brand could lose its trademark, but safeguarding its name is still a chief concern. Those efforts are for the benefit of its licensed associates and consumers as much as it is for itself.
“Our mission is to make our instructors and the facilities they teach in successful, and one of the ways we do that is by protecting the brand,” says Jeffrey Perlman, chief marketing officer for Zumba Fitness.
The company has a two-pronged approach to protecting its brand name and other intellectual properties: education and enforcement. The education component is comprised of Zumba Instructor Network Licensed Support Team (ZLST) specialists, whose role is to educate club owners about the importance of using licensed instructors and to explain to club owners and instructors (both licensed and unlicensed) which marketing materials are needed to host or to conduct a proper Zumba brand fitness program, Buratti says.
“It’s not designed to tell people that they’re doing something wrong,” he says. “It’s designed to educate them how to do something right.”
The second component of the dance fitness brand’s protection efforts is enforcement. Unresolved issues that are escalated from the ZLST are dealt with by the company’s legal compliance specialists, but Buratti says the company prefers to touch on education issues several times before lawyers get nvolved.
Burrati would not say how much Zumba Fitness spends to protect its brand every year, but he did reveal that the company has educated “in excess of 15,000” separate individuals and clubs with respect to misuse of the Zumba brand. And as with Spinning, he says that the company is most often made aware of brand infringements by its licensed partners.
“The single most significant source of information that we get about people or clubs that need to be educated is from our licensed instructors,” Burrati says, adding that club owners also contact the company when they have had problems verifying whether an instructor is licensed to teach Zumba fitness classes.