Winnebago Australia changes name to Avida following legal battle: Five key rebranding lessons from the dispute

Popular RV company Winnebago Australia has officially changed its name to Avida Motorhomes, following a legal dispute with American company Winnebago Industries over the name of the company.

The Australian company is currently appealing a Federal Court decision which last year found it had infringed the copyright of the American company and had capitalised and taken advantage of the company’s brand.

An appeal has been launched, but isn’t due to be heard until March 26 and a decision may not be reached until June. For now, the company has changed its name to Avida Motorhomes.

Avida sales and marketing manager Max Mayo told SmartCompany this morning changing the name was a difficult process.

“Everyone is used to Winnebago so it was very hard. When determining what the name was about we employed a professional branding company and discussed the psychology of names,” he says.

In a statement from Avida, the company stated Avida is “a brand name that is totally Australian, one that focuses on everything Australian”.

The name change follows a volatile legal battle. Bruce Binns owns the Australian company and Justice Lindsay Foster found Binns, through his company Knott Investment, acted knowingly to gain financially from the reputation of Winnebago Industries.

“I find that, by choosing to exploit the Winnebago name and the Winnebago logos, he was intending to gain for himself as much benefit as possible in Australia from the goodwill and reputation of Winnebago and its recreational vehicles.

“His decision was motivated by a keen appreciation that he and his associates would gain financial benefit from using the Winnebago marks in Australia.”

The family owned and operated company began in 1965, but it wasn’t until 1978 it became Winnebago Australia.

A settlement agreement was reached between the Australian and American brands in September 1992 and Binns registered Winnebago as a trademark in Australia. But legal action soon followed.

Changing your company name is always a difficult process. Here are five rebranding lessons you can take from the Winnebago legal battle and subsequent name change:

1. Make sure it’s an original name

During the Federal Court proceedings, intellectual property experts warned businesses they should steer clear from co-opting international, well-known brands for advertising purposes.

Partner at intellectual property group Middletons, Chris Round, previously told SmartCompany companies should not take on the name of overseas companies.

“The lesson is don’t go overseas and adopt the name of a well-known company, and don’t associate yourself with that company in advertising,” Round says.

2. If positive, keep a link to the reputation of the previous brand

Mayo says Avida are marketing themselves as the “makers of the Australian Winnebago”.

“While we can, we want to link the new brand to the history of Winnebago Australia.”

“If we lost the appeal there would be a transition period and we would have to, at some point, stop using the Winnebago name,” he says.

3. Maximise on publicity opportunities

Mayo says it’s important to take any opportunity to publicise the company because of the new brand.

“The Winnebago show circuit starts now and these shows are a good way of getting the RV market to understand what we’re all about.”

“Unless you have a zillion dollar budget, it can take a while to get the brand name out,” he says.

4. Make it memorable

Mayo says the company wanted to choose a name which would be easily remembered by consumers.

“We wanted a name that was short, easy to remember and something at the beginning of the alphabet, in contrast to ‘w’. We also needed a name that wasn’t being used by anybody else close to our industry.”

5. Choose a name that doesn’t have any emotional sentiment

Mayo says it’s important to choose a name which represents how you want the company to be viewed – and that means not attaching an emotional sentiment to the name.

“The name should dictate how you want it to be seen, but remember the name may mean a lot to you but not to anyone else. It’s important to take the emotion out.

“The Avida name doesn’t reference anyone’s mother, son or daughter,” he says.



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