Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thermos® Lives

The Thermos brand lives on, registered trademark and all.

In Sunday’s post, I began talking about brands – and the possibility of losing them. I mentioned escalator and cellophane. Tim Orr, principal of Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. in Nashville, wrote, “One was Thermos. In fact, Thermos deliberately tried to make its trademark a noun, synonymous with vacuum storage bottle. When a challenge finally arose, in another manufacturer's wish to call their product a ‘thermos’ bottle, it went to court, and Thermos lost.” More than a few authorities consider the trademark vacated. But it seems to have more lives than one.

When a brand is more than 100 years old, compressing its ups and downs into a few ‘graphs is daunting. The company, the brand and its products have had a varied history – not least of which was seeing the “Thermos” brand become generic.

Just Google up the name and see how many references you get using “thermos” with a small “t.” The company has also changed ownership more than once.

For example (to quote the United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit): In January 1989, Household International, Inc. (“Household”), decided to divest certain assets, either in spin-offs to shareholders or through outright sales to third parties. The Thermos Company (“Thermos”) was one of the subsidiaries formed as part of Household’s reorganization plan…In June 1989, after an intensive weekend negotiation, Household entered into a 139-page purchase agreement (“purchase agreement”), to sell Thermos to Nippon Sanso K.K…(the latter two entities collectively “Nippon”).

Here’s where you can find a goodly part of the company’s history, which started with the invention of the the “vacuum flask.” It was first manufactured for commercial use in 1904, when two German glass blowers formed Thermos GmbH. They held a contest to name the vacuum flask and a resident of Munich submitted “Thermos,” derived from the Greek word therme meaning “heat.”

The company, based in Rolling Meadows, IL, is still part of Nippon Sanso Corporation and operates as an LLC. A relatively new management team has been working overtime not only to modernize its product lines, but to vigorously re-establish the brand. (The company has five lines, under Thermos®, Thermos® NissanTM, Element 5®, Raya® and Foogo®.)

Wheatley & Timmons, a brand-oriented PR agency in Chicago currently handles the Thermos account. Rich Timmons, one of the principals, told me, “The current management has done an absolutely stellar job of reinforcing the brand strength and building relevance in terms of the contemporary relevance.”

As demonstrated over the last five years particularly, the Thermos management team, led by Rick Dias, is extraordinarily brand-conscious. They understand the company’s point of difference in being the leaders in insulated vacuumware*.

Timmons says that Thermos has dominant awareness in the category and a leading market share. You’ll find a case history of what he calls “brand recharge” on the Wheatley & Timmons website, under “Case Studies.” You want to see outstanding brand revival in action, click on “Watch the Video.” Outstanding work. (And no, I don’t think it’s a sin to applaud a job well done.)

Another correspondent, marketing manager Ryan Libson in Minnesota, wrote about the previous post, “The greatest aspiration of a brand should be to become a noun. What a problem to have.”
I don’t think the Thermos LLC management team agrees with him.

*Interesting word, “vacuumware.” Google it and you’ll find that the Top 3 mentions are attached to Thermos Nissan. At the bottom of each web page, Thermos LLC notes, “Thermos is a registered trademark in over 115 countries.” Special thanks to Rich Timmons and Bob Wheatley; and Abbie Knoepfler at Thermos LLC.


Ann Taylor said...

Richard: I always wondered if Thermos paid a fee to get the awesome product placement in the film “The Jerk,” where Steve Martin croons to his lover, “I’m picking out a Thermos for you...”

Somehow, I just don’t think “I’m picking out insulated vacuumware for you” would have quite the same ring.

Abbie Knoepfler said...

Very interesting article…you do your research well. I hope you enjoyed visiting our website and learning that Thermos is very much alive and well.

Richard F. Timmons said...

Richard: Sorry, I have been remiss in thanking you for a terrific write-up on Thermos. By the way a very interesting Blog. I will be visiting it often in the future. Thanks Again! Rich

Anonymous said...

This article astounded me. I have never seen so much rigor and zest in one man's work. I myself now feel inspired not only to have a Thermos, but to spend every waking moment with it.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Modesty prevents me from saying anything more than "Thank you." I agree there's something iconic about Thermos bottles. Even better, you can often find them in thrift shops. (These are also a good source for old-style tropical shirts.)