Adult site “honoured” by YouTube Red association; opinion split on brand strategy

Over the past week media reports and social media comments have jumped on the similarity between the name of YouTube’s new subscription service, ‘YouTube Red’, and one of the world’s most popular adult websites, ‘RedTube’. World Trademark Review talked with brand and legal experts on the matter, with opinion split on why YouTube would invite potential brand name confusion.

Google’s announcement of an ad-free subscription service on YouTube received a lukewarm reaction from many users due to the decision to place some content behind a paywall. However  many commentators jumped on the name’s similarity to adult streaming video website RedTube, with media reports claiming social media users were “mocking Google” over the choice of name. A search on Twitter reveals hundreds of posts pointing out the similarity between the two names, with a number of high-profile names adding their voices. For example, RBC Capital analyst Mark Mahaney titled a note to investors “YouTube Red (No, Not Red Tube)”, while renowned security blogger Graham Cluley asked: “What wombat in Google's marketing department thought it was a good idea to call YouTube's new service, YouTube Red?”

Responding to the flood of comments, RedTube’s vice president, Alex Taylor, told World Trademark Review that the company is “admittedly quite honoured by the association people are making between ourselves and the newly dubbed YouTube Red”, and added in typically audacious fashion: “The fact that people’s attention is automatically thrust into thinking about RedTube is a clear testament to the prolific swell in brand awareness we’ve achieved as a result of ongoing marketing efforts and our ability to penetrate the public consciousness.”

For its part, YouTube told us they had “no comment” to specific enquiries about the name, but a spokesperson did give a similarly light-hearted response: “When we said Red would enhance the performance of YouTube, that's not exactly what we had in mind.” Speaking at a Q&A to reporters following the announcement, YouTube’s VP and product manager, Matthew Glotzbach, did state: “As we talked to fans, as we talked to users, as we did our studies, the term ‘red’ was very associated with YouTube. It’s sort of core to what is the YouTube brand. We’re not too worried about that other site.”

So no cause for concern? Mark H Jaffe, a trademark and copyright lawyer at Tor Ekeland PC, thinks otherwise. “I would expect that RedTube would have turned up in even the simplest trademark search,” he explains. “It's even the first thing you see on Google if you search for ‘tube red’, [so] there can be some inadvertent and unfortunate confusion. Putting aside lawsuits and trademark challenges, I don't understand why Google would even want to invite that kind of confusion. So this needs to be resolved. I don't think it's too late to backtrack on this one.”

Backtracking is probably not an option and it would be surprising if Google hadn’t conducted full due diligence, which would have thrown up the similarity to RedTube. Richard Buchanan, director of consulting and cofounder of brand consultancy The Clearing, goes further, stating that the choice of name may have taken into consideration the existence of RedTube. “Given the commercial savviness and astuteness of Google, it does not make a decision without totally understanding the implications from a quantitative data perspective. So I don’t think there’s even a possibility that it did not consider everything here,” he says. “Yes, the point that the name is similar to RedTube is a valid one, but why would they make such a decision? I imagine a point of frustration for Google has been the number of adult sites that try to pass themselves off by using ‘tube’ in a way to drive traffic. Therefore, is YouTube trying to reclaim something that it feels is being spoiled by some adult sites trying to ride on the back of its name?”

Ultimately, Buchanan says the furore over the name will likely pass and that, in many respects, the name Google has chosen makes a lot of sense. “From a brand perspective, YouTube has talked in the press about ‘getting closer to the red carpet’ and ‘the red velvet rope’, and that is a story they can continue to spin. From another perspective, Google is very strong in the West but less strong in Asia, and red has very positive connotations in that region. Ultimately, it wanted to maximise the brand equity it has, and differentiate its paid service from its free content in as simple and memorable way as possible. If ‘Red’ does that, and they can spin a story around that term, then it is as good a name as any.”

For now, both Google and RedTube appear to acknowledge the similarity in good spirits. However, if the similarity turns into a legitimate issue for either side, that could quickly change. One media report stated that “maybe YouTube's expansion into Red territory will be the impetus for the search advertising giant to start a legal, trademark battle [against RedTube]”. But RedTube has at least 20 registered trademarks worldwide for its name - including four in the US - so it may also have a legal claim as well.

While the story may not yet have reached its climax, there is clearly more to it than blunder by Google, no matter what the social media chatter would have you believe. 

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