Pubpaper 723 – Red Bull vs Redwell

Posted: 20th August 2013 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing
Tags: , ,

Trademarks are a touchy subject, especially if you are the appointed legal firm for a multinational company, who in justifying their retainer can sometimes be slightly hypersensitive to possible infringements.  This is what has happened over the last couple of weeks with the action by Red Bull, the energy drink manufacturer against a small Norwich based brewery Redwell who are named after a street in the city.  They trouble started when the brewery tried to register their own name as a trademark, Red Bull contested this saying there could be confusion with some of their own trademarked names.

To quote the Red Bull Brand Enforcement Manager – “The term ‘well’ is merely descriptive and therefore of no distinctive character at all. Furthermore the term ‘bull’ and the term ‘well’ share the same ending and just differ in two letters.  “The ending ‘ll’ is identical and therefore the terms Red Bull and Redwell are confusingly similar from a visual as well from a phonetical point of view. The consumer will thus be confused as to the origin of the services.”

I am trying to see how this is possible, Red Bull does not produce beer, has a very distinctive bold double bull logo that is splashed across every extreme sport event in the world and is on millions of cans and bottles a year.  Redwell brewery uses an hourglass as a logo and has this in conjunction with a very different font, An hourglass not something you will easily associate with a company synonymous with high energy sports even with the wildest of imaginations..  Secondly Red Bull sounds nothing like Redwell, unless you are on the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo in the 1980’s and are one of the actors who played Major General Einrich von Klinkerhoffen or Herr Otto Flick.  Of course if it is compulsory to speak “British Sitcom Comedy German” at the offices of the lawyers, then this would be perfectly understandable.

In response the brewery had offered to change their trademark application so it did not include soft drinks, but the Red Bull’s lawyers had taken a “very firm stance” and were told they could not use the “Redwell” name to make any branded merchandise for the brewery, to make shandy, or to make any beer that differed from their original ale.

Social media soon spread the news across the internet and the backlash against Red Bull started, with comments on twitter and facebook pointing out how stupid and pointless this action was.   This soon spread to the national newspapers in the UK and very quickly the multinational company backed down when they realised how much bad press they were getting from this.  The agreement reached was that Redwell could use its trademark, but was prohibited from using it on energy drinks or similar products, something the brewery had no intention of doing.

So Red Bull are left with red faces, a poorer reputation as a business and a legal bill.  Redwell who I admit I had never heard of before this incident (and guess many others had not either) are now known across the country and internationally to a small extent. It is promotion that they could not pay for if they wanted to, and off the back of this interest in their beer has increased significantly.  Before this they provided craft beer to 70 outlets, 50 of those in central London, the staff totalling only 8 (of which 4 are directors of the company).  With a 10 barrel brewhouse, they are relatively small players in the craft beer market.

Already at capacity, they are lucky that they have new brewing plants coming online in the coming weeks to cater for this new demand.    Sometimes as a small company of any sort, you need a bit of luck and what started as a major worry for the business has been a massive opportunity to get their name out there and more beer sold.  However if it had not been for the massive support and publicity that social media can achieve in a very short time they outcome might be very different and Red Bull would be victors.  But this is the digital age in which we live now,  small companies don’t need a massive marketing budget, clever use of social media and having enough followers to spread the word does the job for you

So as drinkers, lets raise a glass to Redwell.  The small guy won this time, but this won’t always be the case, its just the internet has made the field more even.

  1. Jolly Jock says:

    Sadly this kind of nonsense seems to happen more and more often. Interestingly the “Red Bull(y)” website is now being blocked as objectionable content by my firewall software, probably because somebody’s decided put in false reports about the site. I’d guess they’ll be thinking at least twice next time!