Profile: David Gooder of Jack Daniel's
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Profile: David Gooder of Jack Daniel's

David Gooder is Jack Daniel’s Properties’ Managing Director and Chief Trademark Counsel. He talks to Fionn O’Raghallaigh about the special love consumers have for JACK DANIEL’S

What are your key brands?

JACK DANIEL’S BLACK LABEL Tennessee whiskey is the most well-known, but there is also a family of brands—we have a whiskey called GENTLEMAN JACK, a single barrel product that is high end and our new JACK DANIEL’S TENNESSEE HONEY. Then there are some ready to drink offerings and other products as well.

JACK DANIEL’S is also part of a larger enterprise called Brown-Forman Corporation. It has been around about as long as JACK DANIEL’S, about 150 years. Brown-Forman owns tequilas, bourbons, SOUTHERN COMFORT, FINLANDIA VODKA and wine products. We recently sold a lot of our wine business to the Chilean company Concha y Tora.

What is your specific role?

The IP group for the whole company resides at Jack Daniel’s Properties, except for one paralegal. We do all the trademark protection everywhere in the world both for Jack Daniel’s Properties’ brands and the brands owned by Brown-Forman.

My employer technically is Jack Daniel’s Properties and most people associate me with that. When we are working on FINLANDIA VODKA, for example though, we wear our Brown-Forman hat, because it would be a bit confusing for people. So it’s a bit of both. A lot of lawyers who reside in holding companies experience that.

What is your trademark strategy? Is it different for each brand?

We try to adopt a strategy that is consistent with each brand. So what I mean by that is, each brand has a certain style of enforcing; a certain way we do things. We don’t want people to have one feeling about a brand and a different one when it comes to how the trademark is dealt with, because that could lead to problems.

But yes, different brands have different strategies due to different levels of awareness and the brand’s personality.

Consumers drive some of that strategy too. For instance, JACK DANIEL’S has this incredible affinity with consumers. And that means we have issues with fans sometimes, but we still want to deal with people in a way that makes them say ‘hey I’m happy to still be a JACK DANIEL’S consumer even though I had to change how I do something in my business’. We try and keep people connected to the brand.

What unique issues pop up with JACK DANIEL’S because of its fan base?

There are lots things that people do out of love for the brand, but what they don’t realize is that it harms the brand. So, many times we help them understand that. Most of the time people don’t realize and say ‘Oh gosh I don’t want to harm it, I’d be happy to change or stop what I’m doing’.

We do get a lot people honoring the brand too. The creativity is amazing.

A lot of our problems are also from just flat-out popularity. So, counterfeiting, look-alikes, people making spirits products like “John Danfel’s”. We deal with all those kinds of popularity-driven issues, but all that imitation is not always flattering.

We also have a lot of business outside of whiskey. We have a licensing program with over 75 licensees. So there are licensees for barbeque and grilling sauce, for example, which are award-winning products in their own right.

How different are issues for the different brands?

It is interesting how different brands have different infringement themes. With JACK DANIEL’S, people love to play with the label. And that creates all sorts of infringement problems.

Whereas, you have a brand like SOUTHERN COMFORT, because of the words in the brand you tend to have a totally different kind of infringement. It is fascinating to me, how you got entirely different infringements based on the makeup of the mark.

Then you have the wine world. Wines have totally different problems partly because producers historically have used family or geographically based names, or combinations of the two. Family names create many issues, some caused by inheritance, and other issues that can be caused by how the owner is structured. In these cases, you often have brand management challenges that are a bit out of the ordinary.

How would you describe your role?

At the end of the day it’s really making sure my team of people does their work. And that means not only our employees, but our outside counsel, our investigators, our consultants. I have to make sure they have the resources they need, that they work the way we want them to and that it is effective.

For me it’s making sure the team keeps moving in a way that works for us and helping identify issues coming up on the horizon. It’s helping set policy, which is becoming a bigger and bigger part. For example, if we have a new trademark infringement problem that we haven’t seen before, we identify it as early on as possible and then examine whether a policy decision is needed. This then helps my team know what the parameters are and then can work within that.

How much is counterfeiting a problem for the company?

It’s different in different countries. In the U.S. we face counterfeiting with merchandise, with every kind of thing you can imagine. With spirits though, it tends to tack the local drinking culture and preferences, for example. In Asia the bigger problems are with whiskey and cognac whereas in in Eastern Europe, counterfeiting of vodka is a much bigger issue. Similarly, if you are in Mexico counterfeit tequila is the bigger problem.

It is a difficult issue. Counterfeit spirits generally pose a huge risk to consumers, because they can be hazardous to health. They also deprive governments of huge amounts of tax revenue. But the health issue is really important and is the biggest concern for us.

Our vehicle for dealing with this is called the International Federation of Spirits Producers. It’s a high-level body that represents all the large spirits and cognac producers. It has been around 20 years. It’s an amazing organization that works quite well.

Do you face counterfeiting issues online?

Yes, certainly. Domain name disputes, counterfeits or look-alikes, we encounter far more of all of them online now. The one thing that is interesting, is that there is a lot of legitimate fair use of our products online, so it requires care in how we handle it.

What would you recommend to do in San Francisco?

I quickly disclaim that I don’t live in the city, but you can’t live in the region and not be part of it. I’m more of an outdoors type person and one of the neat things about living around here is there are so many great opportunities to get outside, even just over the Golden Gate Bridge. The thing here though can be the weather. May tends to be good, but if the city is fogged in, you can drive 20 to 30 minutes north and you will probably have a sunny, warmer day.

If you have a sunny day in the city, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. I moved here 13 years ago, it’s the one thing I haven’t done and every time I see people doing it, I almost pull over and do it right then. You see people out there and it is a spectacular view. Alcatraz is worth the trip too.

San Francisco is is really great food and wine city. When Michelin first came here three years ago or so, it was a huge deal. It elevated some places and put them on the map. And it de-elevated some places that had been on the map a long time. It was one of the most controversial things, lots of articles in the papers. But by and large it’s a really great city from an eating perspective, especially if you like the unusual or the really creative.

In terms of specific places, The Ferry Terminal has a great collection of food-oriented places. And if you have some time and want to escape a bit, there is a significant stand of giant redwood trees in Muir Woods National Park which is only maybe 45 minutes or so from downtown. You don’t need any hiking gear at all and walking under these giants is an amazing experience.

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