I’m guessing, after reading the title, a substantial number of Tuesdays With Coleman readers are saying to themselves, “It’s not the Duracell Bunny, it’s the Energizer Bunny!”
You’d be right…and wrong.
When I was a teenager, perhaps foretelling my career choice long before I got into research, I once walked around a department store just for fun asking people which battery brand had the bunny. To my amazement, a greater number of adults said “Duracell.” Everyone around my age knew it was Energizer because the commercials were always on. I couldn’t understand why so many people would get the answer wrong, except perhaps that they weren’t paying close attention. But it turns out, there was another reason.
Before the Energizer Bunny, there was in fact the Duracell Bunny. Duracell created the bunny in 1973. The Duracell Bunny even featured pink bunnies drumming and claimed to be the longest-lasting battery. Which may sound and look familiar.
In 1988, Duracell let its trademark lapse and was no longer running the campaign. That’s when Energizer swooped in and created a commercial in which a pink bunny is interrupted by a fresh, cool bunny wearing shades and carrying a big fat drum. When the other bunny stops drumming, the Energizer Bunny keeps going, and going, and….
Energizer then filed for its own trademark, which was followed by Duracell filing for a new trademark, referencing the original campaign. But it was too late, and Duracell ended up agreeing to an out-of-court settlement that gave Energizer rights to use the bunny in the United States and Canada, and Duracell the rights to use its bunny everywhere else.
There are multiple implications and takeaways from the Bunny Battle Royale you can apply to your brand:
- Protect your brand. The most obvious lesson of all is to file trademarks on your most important intellectual property and don’t let them lapse.
- Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode. Energizer’s use of the pink bunny initially caused brand confusion in the United States and Canada. In the short term, this resulted in Energizer’s market share decreasing compared to Duracell’s. This makes sense, as Duracell benefited from misattribution based on consumers’ previously held perceptions from the older campaigns.
- Be patient and track results. If Energizer had dumped the bunny after a couple of years, it would have never captured perceptions and a place in North American pop culture. It only happened because Energizer was consistently aggressive with its marketing. By consistently conducting perceptual research, brands can track the increasing, maintaining, or decline of key images to make sure the investment is worthwhile.