Will Consumers See Through Invisible Branding?

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Last week, Jack Ellis of World Trademark Review, did a very interesting piece on something called “invisible branding”: “Trademark-free marketing: should other companies follow Ford?”

In it, Ellis explores Ford Motor Company’s recent decision to utilize no trademark or brand references in Ford’s “Go Further” advertising campaign.

It is interesting timing for Ford to go stealth without its brand name and logo, since it was reported just days ago that Ford has gotten its blue oval trademark back (it had been posted as collateral and security for loans to avoid bankruptcy back in 2006), but that’s another story, apparently an emotional one for the Ford family.

In any event, truth be told, and assuming no non-traditional product configuration trademarks are present, there is actually one visible brand reference (Ecoboost) in the “Go Further” ad, but apparently, no one appreciates that it is linked to Ford. I suspect they will now (perhaps this a significant secondary benefit of the campaign in favor of the Ecoboost sub-brand).

But, back to Ellis, he captured my off-the-cuff perspective on the moving topic last week:

“Steve Baird shareholder attorney at Winthrop & Weinstine and an author at the Duets Blog, believes that such a method is not necessarily a bad idea: ‘It creates some mystery and intrigue about who put out the ad, possibly generating more interest than a branded spot might enjoy. This is especially so for those who might normally ignore a Ford spot for whatever reason.’ By using an anonymous approach, Ford may well be able to gain the attention of a potential new consumer base that would otherwise be inaccessible.”

And, now I see, William Lozito over at Name Wire confirms that the “Go Further” campaign is designed to “overcome negative perceptions” about the Ford brand. He goes on to say: “The idea is that Ford is so well known — but so misrepresented — that the brand can now quietly reposition itself. Will this happen without constant reminders to consumers about who they are? Time will tell.”

I suspect time will also tell whether, on balance, consumers will appreciate the unconventional marketing effort as an innocent attempt to reintroduce Ford or more like unwelcome manipulation of skeptics to generate coveted click-through hits at www.gofurther.com (3 Million the first week), and if the latter, will the brand suffer the consequences of further hardening the critics and skeptics?

This isn’t Ford’s first marketing effort to win over skeptics of the Ford brand, as Mike Rowe and Ford’s “Swap Your Ride” campaign has been going on for some time now, and it apparently is expected to continue alongside the “Go Further” campaign.

Some have likened the “invisible branding” approach to the well-established trend of a few well-known and famous brands to focus their visual identity on non-verbal logos that stand alone, for example the Nike swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches.

I see them as quite different. Brands that are able to shed their name in favor of a wordless symbol do so from a position of power (as these examples demonstrate). These brands shed their names because they want to and they can communicate through a stand-alone visual icon, not because they are trying to avoid being ignored by critics, and not because they are trying to displace existing negative associations with the brand.

In contrast, the Ford plan could be viewed by some as an invitation to a masquerade party where at least one possible outcome is an angry guest who goes home frustrated after his or her date removes the mask (and then blogs or tweets about it).

It certainly is an interesting approach — to mask or obscure a brand — in order to buy a second chance with a consumer, especially when the buzz word among social media evangelists is the importance of brand “transparency” — so, as I think about this issue more, Ford’s decision to embrace “invisible branding” in the “Go Further” campaign could be considered in conflict with the necessary transparency that successful social media demands.

It seems to me, the real question could boil down to whether Ford wins over more skeptics than it alienates by temporarily wearing a mask and obscuring its identity in the initial “Go Further” ads. I assume Ford has done this calculation, and it’s comfortable with the risk, so it will be interesting to see how this decision may impact the Ford brand going forward.

What do you think? Is invisible branding a good idea? And, if so, when might it make the most sense?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.