Iron Branding

I’m in training for Ironman Arizona.  Oops, I mean, Ford Ironman Arizona.  Er, I mean, the Ford Ironman Arizona Tempe triathlon.  I think?  I don’t know anymore.

Ironman may be most familiar to sane people because of the Timex watch line.  Since I was 12, I’ve had one of these watches – they were great for a kid because they were just about indestructible (though my wife did run over hers with her car several weeks ago – apparently, a bit too much of a lickin’ to keep on tickin’, I guess).

Over the past year or so, I’ve gotten deeper into triathlons, and I’ve noticed all the products and services that the Ironman logo shows up on.  Watches, stickers, treadmills, socks, gel in-soles, exercise bikes, hats, supplements, mattresses, inversion tables, massage tables, ear buds, and baby strollers

I can’t decide whether Ironman has blindly over-marketed itself or has received the careful, strategic counseling of an incisive trademark lawyer.  And really, my concern isn’t so much with whether the mark has been licensed too freely, but what the Ironman trademark really means to consumers.  Do they associate the quality of an Ironman watch with the quality of an Ironman mattress?  Can they rely on the application of the mark to the mattress to believe that it is of similar quality?  Do they think that the mattress came from the same source the watch came from?  I’m not really sure.

The World Triathlon Corporation, which owns the Ironman trademark, doesn’t seem to use it properly, lending to the confusion.  For instance, when a finisher crosses the line of an Ironman-branded race, the announcer screams “Joe Schmoe, you are an ironman!”  The names of the races themselves defy standard trademark practices that state you should always use your trademark as an adjective (like “Nike shoes,” “Rice Chex cereal,” “Apple computer”) never a noun (like “put on your Nikes, pour a bowl of Rice Chex, and turn on your Apple”).  Each race is named “Ironman [Insert Location Here],” like Ford Ironman Arizona, Ironman Australia, or Subaru Ironman Canada.  It would be more appropriate to call append the word TRIATHLON to the end of each race title.  I was able to find an older Trademark Guidelines booklet for use of the Ironman and M-Dot trademarks, and while these permit adding the world TRIATHLON, they don’t require it.

The Ironman triathlon started in Hawaii when a group of guys got together to see if they could complete one long multi-sport endurance race, with the winner being named an “Ironman.”  The World Triathlon Corporation bought the race and the licensing rights along with it.  Since then, there have been about 260 WTC trademarks, 200 or so of which are still active.  Most of those involve the words IRONMAN or IRON.  Alas, much as I would love to be the WTC’s go-to guy for their intellectual property, I’m not there yet.  In the meantime, I am going to worry less about the mark and more about the race.

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    1. Slowly, which is the way I understand it is supposed to be! The temptation to rush is always there, but Joe Friel writes over and over that slow and steady will indeed win the (figurative) race. How’s the Kona prep coming? I see you recently raised a lot of questions on your site.

  1. Tom,

    If I’m participating in an IRONMAN to raise money for a non-profit, can I make t-shirts that have “IRONMAN” on them without infringing on trademark or copywrite protection? The t-shirts will be given away, not sold.



    1. Hi Casey,

      Unfortunately, I can’t give you advice because you’re not a client. Trademark use on clothing can be a very complicated issue based on how the mark is displayed and where it is displayed on the apparel. There may be other factors involved beyond just using IRONMAN on the shirt and giving them away. But, even if you are infringing, WTC may not care, may not find out, or may not want to go after you if you are helping a charity. That said, WTC does have a number of official charity organizations and fundraisers, and it may be opposed to someone using its marks with other non-affiliated charities. Sorry to give you this sort of flip-floppy answer, but there are a lot of legal and business considerations at play!

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