Bureau Boms on Branding

At one point in the early 1990’s, it was quite a compliment to be referred to as ‘da bomb’ – urban slang meaning simply outstanding; amazingly good; draws no comparison.

The phrase wasn’t new to the 90’s, with ‘the bomb’ having origins in the jazz scene through the 1940’s and 50’s. It isn’t clear why the phrase resurfaced or why it subsequently disappeared, but we know that as times change, so too does the language we use.

Language influences the words and names which we use to promote our interests in our respective markets and forms the foundation of many of our brands and trademarks.

My mind turned to that earlier this week when I heard that the Bureau of Meteorology decided in a very un-Australian manner that it no longer liked its nickname (or the acronym BoM which it had also adopted) and must from now on be referred to by its full name, the ‘Bureau of Meteorology’ or the ‘Bureau’ for short. It also directed that the terms ‘BoM’ or ‘Weather Bureau’ are no longer to be used. Announcing the change on social media, journalists were informed that in all publications the acronym ‘BoM’ is out, and the name ‘Bureau’ is in.

The announcement also stated that the Bureau intended to revamp its national, state and territory specific Twitter handles, which would be updated to @TheBureau_Au, @TheBureau_NSW, @TheBureau_ACT and so on.

The problem was that when announcing the change, the Bureau had yet to claim the usernames, which were then snapped up by members of the public. That meant existing Twitter users changed their handles to @TheBureau_Au, @TheBureau_NSW and so on, leaving the intended handles unavailable for use by the Bureau.

The intended primary account @TheBureau_Au was quickly claimed by another user and edited to read: “Australia’s Little Bureau”. Its profile photo was updated to feature a wooden writing desk (i.e. a bureau). However, that account has now been suspended.

Interestingly, although the Bureau no longer wants to be referred to as BoM, its website remains and its App is still called BOM Weather.

A review of the trademarks database shows that the Bureau has registered a number of marks, including:

  • BOM (TM No. 1434714) – no longer to be used.
  • Weather Bureau (TM No. 1524435) – another name that the agency no longer wants to be called.
  • Bureau of Meteorology (TM No. 1524436) – one of the now acceptable names.

They have not however registered ‘Bureau’, one of the now preferred names.

It will be interesting to see whether steps are taken to remedy the trademark position and what will be done about retiring the brands which are no longer to be used.

Although some have made light of the ensuing confusion following the announcement, there are some clear take away messages for brand owners (i.e., all businesses), such as:

  • Take care not to underestimate your brand and how it is perceived in the market. Many brands successfully transition and can use the rebranding as an opportunity to engage with the market and stakeholders. Capitalising on the change/s is crucial as opportunities can be lost where changes are seen as not fully communicated (particularly where perceived to be unpopular), which runs the risk of market disengagement for your brand.
  • Poor planning and preparation provide pitiful performance.
  • Start at the beginning and ensure that you are not infringing any existing rights or stepping on someone else’s toes, which could lead you into dispute. Receiving a cease-and-desist letter which asserts you are infringing someone else’s rights is no fun, particularly after just starting out.
  • Consider your strategy, get good advice, and get it early given the lead time required to secure some rights.
  • Make sure all of your ducks are in a row with any rebrand or the adoption of a brand. That includes securing trademarks which take a minimum of 7.5 months to register.
  • Ensure that trademarks align with (and provide additional protection over) domains and social media usernames/ handles, given our heavy reliance on websites and social media for promotional activities and ecommerce.
  • Confirm the availability of all relevant names (and have them secured) before proceeding.

The Bureau announced these changes whilst many in Victoria and New South Wales are suffering through adverse weather events, which appeared to agitate many. This reinforces that timing can be everything, including when dealing with branding.

“The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.”
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