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Wreaking ‘Havoc’ On Branding

Wreaking ‘Havoc’ On Branding

By Tori Valentine, account manager

Need a branding case study? Look no further than the brand adopted by VCU Men’s Basketball to label its fast-paced, full-court, defensive-heavy style of play: ‘Havoc.’

CBsDNTCWMAAhI9eWhen Shaka Smart signed on to be the head coach of the VCU Rams, he made a point to mention the ‘Havoc’ style of play that he would implement in the coming years. Throughout those years, the term made a statement on warm ups, T-shirts, banners and bumper stickers around VCU’s campus, around the city of Richmond and beyond. If you’ve watched a recent VCU game, it’s not hard to tell what ‘Havoc’ stands for.

In the spring of 2015, Smart accepted the head coaching position with the University of Texas Longhorns, a BIG 12 school with an affinity for football. While many diehard VCU fans wondered what would happen to their beloved ‘Havoc,’ UT made official requests to trademark the terms “Horns Havoc” and “House of Havoc” on the same day Smart was hired by the university.

The clincher: VCU only trademarked ‘Havoc’ in the state of Virginia. This gives UT the freedom to use the term as it sees fit for branded clothing, banners and bumper stickers. Texas has also entertained the idea of bringing in brand strategists on how to build its own, fresh identity (as of now there has been no indication as to whether that will happen).

But, the issue of brand awareness comes into play. Will VCU’s ‘Havoc’ win out because it did it first, or can UT’s ‘Havoc’ reign supreme because it has the capacity (and funds) to do it bigger (if not better)?

According to Blake Brittain, who writes for Bloomberg News’ Intellectual Property Blog:

The big issue here is if there is a likelihood of confusion between the marks, and VCU may have a strong case considering its state registration, its history of using the mark, and the fact that the identical “Havoc” marks are for use on clothing.

Shaka Smart made VCU’s ‘Havoc’ style of play a household name. Is it fair to brand another team’s defense the same way?

The Richmond Times-Dispatch explains:

In trademark law, the question is whether two marks are “confusingly similar.” Would Texas use of “Horns Havoc” and “House of Havoc” confuse basketball fans as to whether the two programs are the same or related?

VCU fans need not worry that Will Wade, the coach hired to replace Smart, will want to change the brand. During Wade’s first press conference he enthusiastically proclaimed, “Havoc still lives here.”

Only time will tell if UT decides to structure their basketball program to mirror the style Coach Smart built at VCU.

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