At the National Funeral Directors Association trade show last fall, the Batesville Casket Co. of Batesville, Ind., unveiled a polished, stainless-steel model called the Millennium. "It has a contemporary look and innovative design," says company spokesman Joe Weigel. "The name Millennium reflects that."
Batesville Casket is one of a horde of entrepreneurial outfits seizing on the millennium as a marketing hook. The Patent and Trademark Office in Washington has been deluged with millennium-related trademark applications. Through January, at least 155 millennial trademarks were approved. Another 475 requests were pending, including millennium herbs, bells, health care, fishing tackle, biotherapeutics, bottled water, Internet-solutions providers and pet food.Already trademarked is "the toothbrush for the millennium." Michael Brice of Syosset, N.Y., the brush's 50-year-old designer and developer, explains the connection between his product and the thousand-year celebration: "It has twin heads and greater contact and greater stimulation of the gums. It heralds a new age in what a toothbrush can do."
Millennial products go from the ridiculous to the sublime and cover just about everything in between. Third Millennium Publications in Gary, S.D., named its only product, a new edition of the 1611 King James Bible (complete with the apocrypha), the Third Millennium Bible. William Prindle, the company's president, says: "This will be, hopefully, a classic and unchanging Bible for the third millennium."
Smiley Licensing Corp. of London has trademarked a "Have a Nice 2000 Millennium" slogan and logo. "The zeros of 2000 are a stress to people," says Franklin Loufrani, Smiley's 55-year-old president. "So I decided to put two eyes and a mouth in the zeros." He has the rights to use the logo on more than 2,000 products from scythes to tampons.
Then there is the Millennium firearm, a semiautomatic nine-millimeter gun, so named because "it's futuristic," says Robert Morrison, executive vice president of Miami-based Taurus International Manufacturing. And after firing off a few rounds at the range, how about a dish of ice cream made with Millennium Vanilla? The vanilla extract is produced by flavor manufacturer David Michael & Co. in Philadelphia. "This particular vanilla is our best for ice cream," says Steve Wilbur, assistant vice president of marketing. "It's a way to celebrate the year 2000."
And a way for the little guy to make a big splash. Most of the big guys, on the other hand, seem content to sit this one out. AT&T Corp., General Motors Corp., International Business Machines Corp. and Microsoft Corp., for example, have no plans as yet to link their marketing to the millennium. "The millennium is going to start becoming a cliche," says Michael Lordi, an AT&T spokesman. "We'll leave the cliche to others."
The Campbell Soup Kids aren't joining the party either. "I question whether the millennium is meaningful," says Richard Nelson, director of the marketing-research department of Campbell Soup Co. He adds, "I'm curious to see how it affects the consumption of soup."
Still, a handful of household names are going millennial. In 1999, Korbel, which calls itself "the official champagne of the new millennium," will double its promotional spending to $20 million. "We'll run a millennium thread through all of our programs," says Margie Healy, director of public relations at Korbel, a unit of BrownForman. M&M/Mars has already launched an advertising campaign with a millennium theme, featuring the Roman-numeral equation MM2000.
Other major marketers are considering the concept. General Mills trademarked a Millennium Crunch cereal but says it doesn't yet know what it will be. Philip Morris's Miller Brewing, anticipating a year of merrymaking, trademarked the word "Millerennium" but has done little else. Bell Atlantic has tagged its new electronic-billing system "Billing Into the Next Millennium," Playboy Enterprises has trademarked "The Magazine of the Millennium" and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox has trademarked the name "21st Century Fox."
For the undecided marketer, psychologist Gene Shore last week hosted a seminar for advertisers and executives titled "New Millennial Era Trends and Opportunities." Mr. Shore, 63, has submitted for trademark a yet-unrealized Millennium Man. The character, one of a few pending millennium men, is envisioned by Mr. Shore as "very successful, very masculine, very virile and very athletic." He adds: "These are characteristics men want to be in the future."