'Semper Fi' for sale: Marines increasingly raise money from branding
By JIM MICHAELS | USA TODAY | Published: February 1, 2014
WASHINGTON — Over its storied 238-year history the Marine Corps has built a powerful brand.
Only in recent years, however, has the Marine Corps and other services been able to capitalize on their reputations by selling agreements that allow businesses to purchase the right to use trademarked slogans or emblems on everything from coffee mugs and T-shirts to airsoft guns, which fire plastic pellets.
The Marine Corps' reputation and mystique sells particularly well. "It's taken 200 years to develop that reputation," said Jonathan Low, co-founder of Predictiv Consulting and a branding expert. "It's not something you can just create out of whole cloth overnight."
Consumers spend about $37 million annually on Marine Corps licensed merchandise, the service said.
The Marine Corps has registered a number of phrases, including the iconic, "The Few. The Proud," and Semper Fi, a Latin phrase meaning always faithful. Even the slogan, "Pain is weakness leaving the body," has been registered by the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps emblem, an eagle, globe and anchor, is also protected.
Revenues from royalties remain small, but have expanded dramatically. Revenue from royalty agreements with the Marine Corps amounted to $1.8 million last year, up from $111,000 in 2010. The money goes to a morale, welfare and recreation fund after paying for operating the trademark program and costs associated with securing registrations.
The service has negotiated more than 300 license agreements with companies.
The Marine Corps and other services were only able to capitalize on their brands after passage of a 2004 law that allowed the services to sell trademark licenses to businesses. It took some time to get the licensing business up and running and establishing relationships with businesses.
The services screen the requests, ensuring that the emblems or slogans are used in a way that presents the service in a good light.
The brands "have been popular for a long, long time, [but] it was only very recently that we could earn revenues from them," Philip Greene, the trademark counsel for the Marine Corps, said in an email.
They've also been aggressive in protecting the emblems and slogans associated with the Marine Corps, ensuring they are not misused.
Marketing and brand experts say being selective about licensing agreements is critical for keeping the value of the brand high.
"If they leverage that in the right way it could be enormously successful," said Stewart Devlin, chief creative officer at Red Peak Group, a marketing firm.
"Any time a brand has that amount of heritage and is that iconic" businesses want to be associated with it, Devlin said.