The ‘Cheney’ Trademark Just Got Its Own Shot In The Arm

The ‘Cheney’ Trademark Just Got Its Own Shot In The Arm

Has the Liz Cheney affair done more to impact the “Cheney” brand, or the “Republican” brand?

Right now, the “Republican” brand seems to me to be a mess. Since my wheelhouse is trademark law, I am not going to touch that. But how is the Cheney political brand affected by this, and how different would it be for a product brand?

If you have a license to sell a product under someone else’s trademark, you darn well better follow the conditions of that license exactly, because even a minor variance can mean immediate termination of the license. Trademark laws recognize a brand as an invaluable asset which can be damaged by almost anything that the brand owner believes – in its own, completely subjective judgment – to be damaging to their brand. You have a license to use a brand, not a right (unless the license allows – which it will not) to get creative and make variations of the brand to your own liking. A political brand is not licensed, of course; it is either something that you have received through heredity or an indirect authorization to use when you are endorsed by a popular politician.

Recognition and repetition give product brands a power all their own. Trying to prove trademark infringement in court often entails first proving that a plaintiff’s trademark is strong – strong enough so that consumers will be confused if they see some similar and competing brand. A brand must also have enough recognition (often proven by polling or surveys just like in politics) to justify protection.

Some people would say that “political brand” is an oxymoron. Why? A brand stands for consistent quality. The whole idea behind the trademark, or brand, should be to stand for – more than anything else – consistent quality. A brand is the mark of its maker.

Politics can be the opposite. In politics, consistency is only about the messenger itself and not the product or message it represents.

The “Cheney” brand has a lot of what trademark law wants, called “acquired distinctiveness.” Her father was Dick Cheney. Chief of Staff for President Ford. Five term Congressman from the state of Wyoming. Secretary of Defense for President George H.W. Bush. Vice President of the United States for eight years under Pres. George W. Bush. That is the plus column. In the minus column, we have Dick Cheney tagged by national popular press as an unwelcome power-behind-the-throne for Bush 43, and outspoken and blunt advocate for whatever he supported – often unpopular with the public or the media. By the time his term as Vice President was over, Dick Cheney probably left office with the lowest approval rating of any V.P. in U.S. history. Of course, popularity can never be judged apart from the constituency, and these nationwide polls do not necessarily reflect the citizens of Wyoming.

Does this enhanced brand awareness make Liz Cheney more electable in Wyoming in 2022? Again, not my table.

Given the choice between name recognition with some baggage, or no name recognition, political name recognition and branding will win out every time. Ms. Cheney’s ability to displease her party’s leadership may be “on brand.” Perhaps, in the long run, Cheney’s blend of outspokenness and success – despite the unpopularity of political viewpoints – will serve her well.

Product brand is about consistent quality. Would an intelligent, motivated person like Liz Cheney have been able to win an election as the representative from Wyoming if she had not the benefit of the “Cheney” name? The answer is probably not. That is not a rap on Representative Cheney; it is more a statement of reality, and a recognition that without that pedigree or trademark, someone else in the race with their own version of a political brand, may have made voters more comfortable. The product is the same today, tomorrow, and the next day. In a political brand, the product is perhaps different today, tomorrow, and the day after. It is the character of the brand owner – not the product – which remains steady.

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