As a business and intellectual property attorney here in Murrieta, California, I am part of several networking groups that are made up of small businesses with unique backgrounds that span across several industries including carpet cleaning, dentistry, legal services, real estate professional services, wealth management, beauty products, and energy consulting.

Small Businesses Pitching Catch Phrases at Networking Events

Every week at my Business Networking International (BNI) networking meeting, I hear each business owner pitch his or her product or service, which usually has a catch phrase or a catchy tagline such as “We clean corners, not cut them” or “Family Dentistry You Can Trust.” I often wondered if my fellow small business owners ever considered protecting their catch phrase by filing a trademark application. Although these taglines are not as familiar to the general public, I thought to myself these taglines might be worth protecting since big companies do it. But how does a company protect its tagline? And how much would the tagline be worth to the company?

What is a Trademark Tagline and Why it Matters to Branding?

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark 1) identifies the source of a company’s goods or service, 2) provides legal protection for a company’s brand, and3) helps a company guard against counterfeiting and fraud.

This intellectual property protection is important for companies to protect their trademark taglines because the taglines represent the company’s motto or purpose creating brand awareness where consumers walk away with a memorable connection to that company. A primary goal for company taglines is that if people remember the brand, they are more likely to use or buy it.

I did a quick Google search to see the most famous taglines out there and found “Just Do It” “Got Milk” or “The Happiest Place on Earth”. For companies like Nike and Disney, it is easy for the general public to remember their taglines because they have significant advertising budgets to engrain their taglines into our memory.

How Much is a Trademark Tagline Worth?

The answer to this question is not as easy to formulate because it is difficult to determine if the tagline increased the company’s valuation or if it was the brand name itself. When Nike released its “Just Do It” campaign in 1988 to 1998, sales grew by a factor of 10 from nearly $900 million to over $9 billion dollars.

This could have been because of the “Just Do It” campaign. Or it could have been because Nike had superstars like Michael Jordan who helped promote the brand as a brand ambassador. Additionally, the Nike shoe line innovated itself year over year to introduce new shoe lines and features. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if the “Just Do It” campaign was the single factor that helped catapult Nike to grow 10 times within that 10-year campaign.

Why Trademark Your Tagline or Catch Phrase

Although it is unclear how much Nike paid to initiate and protect the “Just Do It” campaign by filing its trademark for the tagline, we do know that the investment paid for itself and some as the company is worth $168.86 billion dollars in 2023.

I am not sure any of my fellow small business owners within BNI will ever grow their brand to as large as Nike did with a tagline like “Just Do It.” However, one thing we do know is that Nike was prudent enough to take the steps to catch their tagline name before someone else took it from them. So, to my fellow small business owners, “how much are you willing to pay to catch your phrase?”