Trademarks + marketing = power

Making you mark in business

Anyone who has watched even a small amount of television over the past year or so is probably familiar with the Ford commercials featuring Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame pitching cars with engines that utilize EcoBoost® technology.

EcoBoost engines are those that offer power comparable with that of their larger counterparts but do so at about a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. The two most prominent examples of EcoBoost technology are the 4-cylinder engine in the new Ford Mustang that produces over 300 hp and the V6 engine in the F-150 that produces 365 hp as well as oodles of torque for hauling and towing. Both engines offer significant improvements in rated MPG over larger available engines not incorporating the technology.

The EcoBoost engines have been tremendously successful for Ford and are now being rolled out in more sizes and being made available for more cars in the manufacturer’s lineup. Ford’s skillful marketing and education campaign has been able to convince even skeptical truck buyers that the old adage “there is no replacement for displacement” may no longer be true. Ford has even been able to charge more for smaller displacement EcoBoost engines than its larger counterparts, thus turning a legacy of more than 50 years of automotive sales tradition on its head.

The truth is, however, that EcoBoost technology isn’t revolutionary or even particularly unique. Simply, the term describes engines that are both turbocharged and direct injected. Turbocharging has been available on cars sold in the United States since at least the early sixties, back when a turbocharger was an option on the Chevrolet Corvair, the car with suspect handling that helped to launch Ralph Nadar’s career.

Direct injection is a newer technology but numerous car companies offer engines that incorporate it. “EcoBoost” is, therefore, really nothing more than trademarked name for a couple of technologies that are already fairly well known.             

While trademarks are most commonly used to identify brands and product names, they can also be used to identify features that are incorporated or utilized in a particular product or in relation to a particular service. But why obfuscate the actual underlying technology in some made-up name?

Ford could have easily spent millions advertising its line of direct injected turbocharged engines, rather than using the same amount to promote a line of engines incorporating “new” EcoBoost technology, with roughly the same level of success. 

Not everyone (and probably very few automotive consumers) knows or even cares what the underlying technologies incorporated in an EcoBoost engine are. To many of us, EcoBoost technology is engineering magic that somehow, in some way completely unbeknownst to us, increases the fuel efficiency of our cars.

And magic, with all of its glamour and seduction, sells far better than a straightforward list of already well-known techniques that are now being incorporated in an engine – even if the truth behind the words is exactly the same. This is not lost on me.

Even though I know exactly what makes an engine an EcoBoost engine, I still have an underlying, subconscious belief that an engine boasting the “EcoBoost” designation is somehow something special and unique. This is testament that a good trademark backed by a great advertising and PR campaign is very powerful stuff, indeed.

What’s more, to Ford’s credit, the brand probably understood from the start that marketing the actual technologies behind EcoBoost engines rather than the shiny, new, branded product would inadvertently also market similar engines produced by other manufacturers – and they didn’t want that.

They didn’t want to simply educate consumers about existing technologies but also create and perpetuate the idea that their proprietary blend of these technologies was somehow better than the rest. If they had done it another way, other manufacturers who produce turbocharged and/or direct injected engines could have benefited from Ford’s hard-earned (and handsomely paid for) marketing efforts. By creating and marketing a specific name, however, the company was able to simultaneously educate the consuming public and elevate the Ford name.

Because Ford chose to market a combination of technologies under the EcoBoost banner, the best a competitor (such as, say, Chevrolet) could do would be to run an advertisement or air a commercial describing how its engines incorporate the same technologies as Ford’s EcoBoost – thus repeating the Ford name, and extending the reach of the company’s original marketing campaign even further.

Of course, no self-respecting marketing department (Chevrolet’s or otherwise) would think to run such an ad or commercial, at the risk of helping their competitor out – but also at the risk of (depending upon the actual use of Ford’s trademark) finding themselves on the wrong side of a trademark infringement suit.

It’s an ingenious strategy, and one that would probably be effective even without the help of a celebrity endorsement. Well played, Ford.

Categories: Sales & Marketing