engin-akyurt-2rlleYcpvtI-unsplashMost people intuit that advertising is some mix of fact and fiction; not lies per se, but perhaps a burnished version of the truth. Rare is the product that actually changes our life (although, fingers crossed) and that knowledge is baked into our reading or viewing of advertisements. We look past the embellishment to try and discern if the product in question will do what we want, at a price we can live with. Everything else is about rising above the noise to grab our attention in the first place.

Can a product tagline be too honest, though? That is the question oat milk maker Oatly must be asking themselves after suffering a trademark rejection at the hands of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) per Vegan Food and Living. If you were to rule out the possibility that Oatly's mark was denied on the grounds that it infringed upon an existing mark, you might assume that the rejection was based upon some outlandish claims made about oat milk or its properties, or even the origin of the product itself. (The notion of drinking milk derived from oats is unsettling, at least for me.)

But Oatly didn't lie or exaggerate in the least with their latest attempted tagline, and that may be the problem. The company submitted "It's like milk but made for humans" to the EUIPO — not a particularly controversial claim, given what we know about (and what many human adults experience in) digesting milk and/or dairy products. But the EUIPO denied the filing on the grounds that people are aware of the fact that cow's milk is indeed intended for consumption by calves.

The matter is made more onfusing because, as the article notes, Oatly was sued in 2014 by the Swedish Dairy Association over that same tagline, in this instance insisting that the line was misleading consumers and creating concern that cow's milk was somehow unsafe. It's unclear how the same advertising could be both misleading and obviously true, but Oatly seems to be caught in that contradiction until they can get clarification from the EU's General Court.

Which is a shame, because as a cynic about advertising (see above) I quite like Oatly's tagline; it's clever and understated and, as the EUIPO would agree, undoubtedly true, so consumers won't feel they're being sold a bill of goods that can't be delivered upon. Hopefully Oatly can prevail, and other brands can take a lesson and stop trying to oversell what consumers aren't going to believe.

Join for Free Business Risk Assessment