Godiva Chocolatier: What’s in a Name?

While love-struck Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet proclaimed that a name is just a name, nothing so straight forward applies in business. Especially in the fast moving consumer goods sector the company name, brand, image, and logo all play a critical role in driving sales and hence the all-important bottom line.

Marketing experts advise that in naming a company, product, or a feature, the brand name must be created for strategic impact. It must grab attention, generate interest, and tell customers something novel. A whole new industry has grown up around such naming services which include branding and name research geo-linguistics (checking appropriate languages to ensure that the connotations of the name are appropriate). With nearly twenty million active trademarks and 230 million URLs in the world, the process of choosing a distinctive new brand or company name can imply a lot of work.

“What’s in a name?

That which we call a rose

By any other name

would smell as sweet.”

Once selected, the brand name must be nursed. One PR disaster can tarnish it for a generation. Something as trivial as an inappropriate Facebook post, a flippant tweet, or a rogue YouTube video can spread around the world at lightning speed, undoing years of diligent and painstaking work.

Godiva Chocolatier is a distinctive name – selected to be synonymous with quality and redolent of history. Premium chocolate manufacturer Godiva Chocolatier fixed on the name in 1925 because its Belgian founder Joseph Draps liked the medieval legend of Coventry’s Lady Godiva. The name also provided the distinctive logo: a long haired naked lady riding on horseback.

The story of Lady Godiva dates back nearly a thousand years. Her husband was Leofric the Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry. He was a powerful and ruthless ruler who imposed hefty taxes upon his subjects. Legend has it that the kind-hearted Lady Godiva persistently pleaded with her husband to relieve the heavy burden of taxes he had imposed on the residents of the town of Coventry but to no avail.

This marital spat has entered the annals of posterity because Leofric eventually said he would grant his wife’s request, but only if she would ride naked on horseback through the town. The legend has it that the good lady was horrified by the idea. However, by ordering the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred, and loosening her long hair to serve as a cloak, she was able to mount her horse and ride through the silent streets without compromising her modesty.

Leofric accepted his defeat with good grace, acceded to his wife’s wishes, and abolished the town’s oppressive taxes. Be it legend or history, records show that in medieval times no tolls were paid in Coventry except on horses. The town of Coventry is immensely proud of Lady Godiva and an annual pageant has been established to re-enact her ride following the original route.

Back to chocolate and to the present day: Godiva Chocolatier is now established as a world-wide luxury brand with over 600 retail boutiques and shops in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. In its ninety-year history the company has spread its wings and flown far from its Belgian roots. The first Godiva shop outside Belgium opened in 1958 on Paris’s fashionable Rue St Honoré. Over the next decade the company targeted American markets, focusing on luxury malls. In 1967, the company was acquired by US food processing giant Campbell Soup Company. The brand prospered and ten years later annual sales had reached $500 million.

Then came a parting of the ways: Campbell Soup decided that the “premium chocolate business does not fit with Campbell’s strategic focus on simple meals” and Godiva was sold to the Istanbul-based Yıldız Holding, owner of the largest consumer goods manufacturer in the Turkish food industry, for $850 million at the end of 2007.
In the Coventry area Godiva is an extremely popular name for local enterprises. Businesses dealing with insurance, mortgages, fire-fighting equipment, bearings, carpets, and mountain bikes, amongst others, all use the name. Godiva Chocolatier, marketing a premium Belgian chocolate product, has no links with Godiva and her home town of Coventry. However, the Turkish owners have recently created uproar in the Midlands town by claiming intellectual property rights on both the name and the image.

In 2007, Godiva Chocolatier filed a patent on Lady Godiva’s identity at the Intellectual Property Office register in London. It trademarked the name along with several versions of the image of a comely woman on horseback. The cost of this claim would have been around £1,000 and took place with no obligation to consult interested parties the before going ahead.

The trademarking came to light last year when company lawyers gave the owner of the Lady Godiva public house in Geneva ninety days to cease and desist from using the name. The Godiva-themed English Pub opened in 2007 in a student area of the city. The menu includes delicacies such as the Lady Godiva Burger and the Lord Leofric Burger, although naked ladies on horseback appear to be in scant supply.

The legal threat provoked fighting talk from the pub owner, Englishman Glen Simmons: “My pub has nothing to do with chocolates so I don’t see how anyone could be confused. I wanted to name the pub after a woman who was part of England’s heritage and I could think of no one better or more famous than Lady Godiva.”

The heist of Lady Godiva’s name and image has provoked outrage. Colin Walker, vice-chairman of the Coventry Society, is reported by The Daily Mail as saying: “This is an absolute travesty. No one should be allowed to hijack the identity of historical figures for their own commercial interests. I never thought it would come to this. If the Belgians try to enforce this in Coventry, there will be angry protests. We are very proud of Lady Godiva, and she is known and loved around the world.”

Predictably, social media fanned the flames of the argument with a Facebook and Twitter account in the name of Boycott Godiva. Happily, sanity prevailed and the chocolate company set out to assure establishments in and around Coventry that it has no wish to challenge any that use the name Lady Godiva. “The legend of Lady Godiva has already taken its rightful place in history and we are as respectful as anyone of Coventry’s close association with it,” the firm said in a statement.

The company went on to explain that the action against the Geneva pub was undertaken because it appeared “confusingly similar” to its own stores and cafes. “This is a narrow dispute where we feel we are entirely within our rights,” the statement added.

So, in summary, a multinational conglomerate worth billions of dollars threatened the owner of one small pub over the use of a name from the history of a country where neither David nor Goliath is based. Much publicity resulted, especially in the Coventry area which believes that it has the best claim to the Lady Godiva name. Who are the winners and losers of this unequal contest? Godiva Chocolatier may claim the legal high ground but its actions have succeeded only in drawing bad publicity upon itself.

Choosing the right brand name is important, but throughout the life of the brand, its reputation must be maintained. For Godiva this requires the generosity of spirit of Lady Godiva rather than the iron fist of her husband Earl Leofric. The heavy-handed legal letter could be considered an own goal for the chocolatier.

By Penny Hitchin

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