Another Acronym to Add to the Bad Rebrand List

Earlier this year, we wrote about AdAge’s list of the worst rebrands in 2018. Topping the list were acronyms, nicknames, and abbreviations. If Coffee by Design finished its rebrand to CBD in 2018 instead of 2017, it may have made the list as well.

Coffee by Design was founded in 1994 in Portland, Maine. The company operates four coffeehouses and coffee roastery that sells to nearly 500 wholesale and mail order customers around the globe. In 2010, Coffee by Design obtained a federal trademark registration for the acronym CBD in connection with “coffee shops” and “coffee.” In 2010, the CBD acronym did not dominate the Coffee by Design packaging, and the packaging did not change much, if at all, in 2015. But in 2017, Coffee by Design decided to change all of its packaging and marketing materials – from cups to bags – from Coffee by Design dominating to its new CBD logo dominating.

It was after this change was implemented that the problems started happening. In 2016, Maine residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. Governor Paul LePage vetoed the adult-use pot bill, which the Maine Legislature overturned. That paved the way for marijuana retail shops to begin doing business in the spring of 2019.

Apparently, the owners of Coffee by Design did not know that CBD was a common acronym for cannabidiol, an ingredient in some products. All of a sudden, there was an influx of retail shops in Portland, Maine and other states where marijuana is legal promoting the sale of CBD products. This was causing confusion in markets where Coffee by Design was known.

It also caused some of Coffee by Design’s customers in geographic areas that do not allow marijuana sales or who simply do not agree with marijuana use, to question the quality of Coffee by Design’s product. As a result, Coffee by Design has spent considerable time and money to educate its customers that its CBD mark does not stand for cannabidiol. For example, the company had to prepare a list of talking points for its 65 employees to better handle questions about the confusion.

Despite the clear confusion occurring, Coffee by Design does not plan to rebrand again. The owners think the confusion will subside as the sale of marijuana becomes old news, and instead made a plea for the marijuana retailers to use cannabidiol instead of CBD when promoting their products. Well, we hate to burst Coffee by Design’s bubble, but that is likely not going to happen. When you choose a descriptive mark, businesses are allowed to exploit the descriptive meaning of the mark. Our best guess is the use of the CBD acronym is not going away any time soon.

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