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Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Possessive vs non-possessive for brand names and trademarks

Possessive state applied to brand names and trademarks prevent “Brand” and “Thing” from becoming a holistic entity. Here’s why Brand Thing is better than Brand’s Thing.

In fleshing out our brand standards, my colleagues combusted into a short, fiery debate on the use of possessive versus non-possessive brand names. When the ash settled, the line was drawn. Unless unavoidable (in the same way an earthquake is unavoidable), brand names, trademarks and trade names should be referenced in a non-possessive state.

For example:

  • Lexmark Capture (formal portfolio name)
  • Lexmark solutions, Lexmark hardware, Lexmark software, Lexmark services (informal portfolio categories)
  • The Lexmark professional services team delivered on the customer’s every expectation.
  • Visit our website for Lexmark career opportunities.
  • This Lexmark campus is smoke-free.

The possessive state should be used only when necessary for clarity or common sense. Often, this is in describing something the brand is pursuing, or the where there is intention. Best represented in examples:

  • Lexmark’s commitment to diversity has created a more collaborative workplace. (It sounds pompous to write “The Lexmark commitment …”)
  • The new EBC is a big step forward in Lexmark’s initiative to update office communication technology.
  • The acquisition will contribute to Lexmark’s growth strategy.

Why is this important?

In a nutshell, it’s the difference between owning something and being something.

When a name is linked to a common noun (“Lexmark software”), the words inextricably bond together. The common noun is elevated into something unique, official and branded. The whole becomes more valuable than the sum of the parts.

In a state of possession (“Lexmark’s software”), the brand or trademark becomes a passive owner. It lacks permanence, authority and singularity. Possessive draws a border between the words.

Frankly, dropping the possessive also just sounds better.

Does anyone else take this seriously?

Apple excels at this. The page for MacBook uses phrases like “Apple notebooks”. Read carefully how they give first-name status to products. Meaning Apple never writes “the iPhone is available in two colors”, but rather “iPhone is available in two colors” in the same tone as “Bob is available in two colors”. They are masters at using language to further the humanism and brand integrity of their products.

In Adobe’s corporate brand guidelines (page 50), specific examples are given to use Adobe as a “trademark” and Adobe as a “trade name” without possessive. Microsoft specifically warns against using its trademarks in the possessive or plural form. A New York Times article from 2009 references Google policy stating “Use the trademark only as an adjective, never as a noun or verb, and never in the plural or possessive form. Use a generic term following the trademark, for example: Google search engine, Google search, Google Web search.” (This page seems to have been removed from Google.com, sadly.)

It’s a subtle thing, but most facets of brand-building are.

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