With its new audience measuring system, Médiamétrie (a company specializing in audience monitoring and media market surveys in France) is totally changing the use of trademarks on the Internet by audiovisual and interactive media groups.
Up to now, French media groups could add up the audiences achieved on each one of the sites they managed, even if such sites belonged to different subsidiaries, were operated under different trademarks or offered different contents. This allowed the groups to inflate audiences to attract advertisers, and hence offered a true economic advantage.
However, since December 1, 2013 in France, websites can only be cumulated if they are clearly shown as belonging to the same group. In fact, Médiamétrie is strongly committed to respecting the original identity of trademarks, and wants web users to know in which trademark environment they are navigating.
As a consequence, French newspaper Le Monde cannot aggregate Le Huffington Post, or Courrier International; and the L’Express magazine cannot add up its various titles – L’Expansion, Votre argent, L’Entreprise and L’Etudiant. Similarly, the women magazine Femme Actuelle cannot combine Enfant, MaTVPratique, Prima and Hellocotton or other titles.
In order to continue and combine audiences, Médiamétrie now requests media groups to use the umbrella trademark. And this impacts the respective reach of the various product marks within the umbrella.
As an example, to be able to maintain in its total audience level the levels achieved by the Rue 89 info website, which accounts for one fourth of its traffic, French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur has modified the appearance of the Rue 89 website to match the colors of the magazine. The logo of Le Nouvel Observateur is now shown at the top of the Rue 89 home page, followed by the statement: “Partenaire Rue 89” and the address Rue89.com has been replaced with rue89.nouvelobs.com. Médiamétrie is not satisfied either with the statement “Rue 89 – partenaire du Nouvel Observateur”.
The group’s name now has to be shown very clearly at the top of the page!
Following these changes which have a strong impact upon the value of the mark within the umbrella trademark, the employees of Rue 89 went on strike for a few days. Several press groups also asked to meet Médiamétrie representatives to protest against the new web audience measuring rules.
As a matter of fact, and on top of the obvious economic consequences, the changes do raise true issues in terms of brand building and the management of the respective trademarks. This concerns both the trademarks within the umbrella – which are being pushed into the background and may well end up disappearing, according to the policies of the parent companies -, and the umbrella trademarks, which will be in the foreground on all of the group’s websites, without any distinctions as to the contents and the presentation!
In the particular case of Rue 89, which had to totally review its graphic charter in order to stick to the requirements of the umbrella trademark (Le Nouvel Observateur), the informative website is actually losing its identity, just for the sake of compliance with Médiamétrie’s requirements.
The “umbrella trademark” approach can also be hazardous for the group. While every product within the umbrella will benefit from consumer awareness of the umbrella trademark, any problems affecting any products marketed under such trademark will end up impacting it as well.
Also, such use of an umbrella trademark could thus be considered as simple use of a corporate name, without this validating the registered trademark, as confirmed by the first part of recent case law concerning venteprivée.com. There is clearly a risk of the mark shifting towards the corporate name, which could pose a number of problems.
Conflicts may also arise between the parent company and third party companies that may try and prevent the parent company from affixing the umbrella trademark on the website concerned!
The question now being asked is whether Médiamétrie has given sufficient thought to the impacts of its decision, in terms of brand recognition and the brand building of the trademarks concerned. Every media group should carefully weigh the benefits, as well as the risks in terms of the trademarks’ image and recognition, etc., even if that means losing a number of audience groups…