The Black Friday Trademark in Germany: What You Need to Know
Ferociously popular across the globe, Black Friday sales hardly need an introduction. But you may be surprised to hear that businesses in Germany can face the threat of lawsuits for using the term “Black Friday” in their sales and marketing.
Why is this? One word: trademarks.
You might be wondering whether this is something you need to worry about even if your business isn’t based in Germany. The answer is possibly—because this trademark and the ongoing legal battle over it—impacts any business promoting Black Friday sales in Germany.
But please don’t panic as this is far from being the end of the story. Here’s what you need to know.
The Black Friday trademark in Germany: What’s the latest?
If you’re not yet familiar with the story of Black Friday being trademarked in Germany, please allow me to quickly catch you up to speed.
I’ll be brief, though, because the last thing I want is for you to run away from this blog post quicker than I can write the word “trademark.” After all, this stuff is important to know.
It all started in December 2013 when a media and IP holding company called Super Union Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong trademarked the phrase “Black Friday” in Germany.
Over the years, they had the power to send warning letters to any businesses promoting Black Friday sales or marketing promotions within Germany to ask them to stop.
That is until November 2017, when Germany saw the first resistance to the trademark—from Simon Gall, the owner of the website Black-Friday.de.
In April 2018, the trademark “Black Friday” was revoked and businesses were once again free to promote their Black Friday offers in Germany.
Shortly afterward, though, Super Union Holdings appealed this decision—starting an ongoing legal battle within Germany, which still hasn’t been resolved.
At just over one hundred words, I’ve certainly kept that history lesson brief. If you want to learn more, I’d recommend reading this article.
Should I be concerned about the Black Friday trademark?
First, the boring—but no less important—bit. What follows isn’t legal advice, but rather information to be aware of. For specific advice on how these matters may impact your business, consult your legal counsel.
Okay, real talk now. Because the decision to revoke the trademark has been appealed, Super Union Holdings can still try to take legal action against businesses using the term “Black Friday” in Germany as they’re still technically trademark owners until this dispute is resolved one way or another.
Baker McKenzie, a reputable law firm, puts it like this: “If you plan advertising campaigns in Germany and/or targeting German consumers on your foreign websites, you should certainly be aware that there is still a risk that the owner of the Black Friday trademark might claim rights in the not yet canceled German trademark Black Friday, and send a demand letter. In view of the (not yet final) decision of the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA), this risk is lower than it was in former years, but it still exists.”
"If you plan advertising campaigns in Germany and/or targeting German consumers on your foreign websites, you should certainly be aware that there is still a risk that the owner of the Black Friday trademark might claim rights in the not yet canceled German trademark Black Friday, and send a demand letter."
But here’s why you don’t necessarily need to panic…
Bird & Bird, an international intellectual property group, says: “It is possible that retailers using the term ‘Black Friday’ in Germany could still receive warning letters from Super Union Holdings Limited. However, such retailers would have good arguments in their defense as the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has rejected applications for the mark ‘Black Friday’ which do not have other distinctive elements. It could help to reduce the risks of infringement further if retailers avoid using the term ‘Black Friday’ on its own and instead use it as a reference to the known event (e.g., ‘Our offers on Black Friday’).”
"Retailers would have good arguments in their defense as the EUIPO has rejected applications for the mark ‘Black Friday’ which do not have other distinctive elements. It could help to reduce the risks of infringement further if retailers avoid using the term ‘Black Friday’ on its own and instead use it as a reference to the known event (e.g., ‘Our offers on Black Friday’)."
Bird & Bird
Interestingly, though, these trademark issues don’t appear to have dampened German consumers’ spirits for Black Friday sales this year.
Nineteen percent of German consumers plan to spend more this holiday season compared with 2019, according to Klaviyo’s research. Another 19 percent said they plan to do the majority of their online shopping on Black Friday this year and a final 20 percent said they plan to make the majority of their purchases via brand’s own websites—beating even third-party marketplaces like eBay and Amazon to the top spot.
This same survey also suggested that consumers in Germany have been waiting with especially heightened anticipation for Black Friday this year as consumer comments such as “it’s an important day,” “the day is special,” “Black Friday is a blessing,” and “it’s a great sale before Christmas” appeared in the results.
Your customers in Germany could become some of your most profitable ones this holiday season. Yet many ecommerce businesses based in Germany are now choosing not to use the term “Black Friday” and are instead seeking new and novel ways to celebrate this popular holiday shopping day with their customers.
Black Friday alternatives
If you and your legal team think it would be a good idea for you to use different wording for your Black Friday promotions in Germany, then here are a few examples I’ve seen from other businesses.
“Super Friday” has been popular with German brands in the past. But I think this could be confused with “Super Saturday” (aka the last Saturday before Christmas) so let’s have a look at what else you could try.
1 | Branded sales days
One of the best things about ecommerce and digital marketing is that you’re rarely confined to just following what everyone else does. You’re in control.
Black Friday has become so well-known across the western world that any sales promotion you run in the same week would likely be recognized by your customers as a Black Friday sale—even if you call it something else.
Take PURELEI, a Hawaiian-inspired jewelry brand based in Mannheim, Germany for example. They changed their Black Friday promotions because of the trademark, and last year, they settled on “Golden Friday,” “Golden Week,” and “Golden November.”
As a jewelry brand, this play on words makes a lot of sense for their business. Their customers now also recognize it for what it is and it’s something they can look forward to hearing about once November rolls around each year.
PURELEI can also be confident that their “Golden Friday” branded promotions will stand out in a sea of “Black Friday” emails—and without infringing on any trademarks.
Waterdrop® is another brand based in Germany that has hosted branded sales days in the past. Their products—including fruit infusions for water and reusable water bottles—are designed to help customers drink more water.
From November 26 to December 3, 2019, Waterdrop® hosted an event they dubbed “Waterdrop® Days” where customers could buy limited edition products at discounted prices—just like they would during a standard Black Friday event.
The brand also offered free shipping on all orders made throughout that week and customers could even grab bonus loyalty points and a free limited edition water bottle worth €50.
My question to you is this: Is there a fun or unique play on words you could try that makes sense for your brand and products?
2 | “Giving Friday”
“Giving Friday” is another play on words—but one with a charitable foundation—where you can pledge to give something back every time a customer places an order with you.
Last year, dm-drogerie markt, a chain of cosmetics shops and drugstores headquartered in Karlsruhe, Germany donated five percent of its total turnover to good causes for every order they received during their “Giving Friday” event.
To help drive even more sales and donations, dm-drogerie promoted their event across social media using the unique hashtag—#givingisthenewblack.
You could also take inspiration from businesses in the US who promote “Giving Tuesday” events once their Thanksgiving festivities have finished because the idea is fairly similar.
Sevenly, a lifestyle product line, is a fantastic brand to take notes from. For every product purchased via its website at any time of the year, Sevenly donates seven dollars to various charities and nonprofit organizations—with a different cause being the focus each week—resulting in millions of dollars worth of donations since the company was founded in 2011.
A “Giving Tuesday” event makes a lot of sense for their customers and brand mission, which is probably why the company has promoted an event like this more than once over the years.
3 | “Green Friday”
The concept of “Green Friday” isn’t new, but it’s gained fast momentum in recent years across the globe, with retailers of all sizes getting involved.
Through promoting a “Green Friday,” “Green Week,” or even a “Green November” initiative, businesses usually pledge to support an environmental cause.
For example, the furniture company, Sofology, pledged to plant a tree for every sofa order they received between November 29 and December 8 last year, while employees from the outdoor clothing and accessories store, REI, organized nationwide cleanups.
I’ve also seen companies using “Green Friday” copy when the business itself is environmentally-focused.
Refurbed, a popular website to buy refurbished smartphones, computers, and tablets from is a great example of this.
Last year, Refurbed hosted its own “Green Friday” event where the team offered as much as 40 percent off their products. Customers could also claim one month of free insurance for their new gadget if they placed an order by December 2nd.
Because Refurbed’s business is focused on recycled products, a “Green Friday” promotion makes a lot of sense for their brand—and their emails are bound to be of interest to their customers when they pop up in their inboxes.
And then there are the businesses that use “Green Friday” style events to promote the underlying reasons why their brand and products exist—while also supporting an environmental cause or project at the same time—hitting two birds with one stone as they say.
LastObject, creators of the world’s first reusable cotton swap, as well as reusable tissues and cotton pads, are a perfect example of this.
This year, LastObject is promoting a “Green November” campaign in collaboration with Plastic Bank® across all their sales channels—even B2B.
For every LastObject product sold throughout November, the Denmark-based team has pledged to prevent one kilogram of ocean-bound plastic from entering the waterways in vulnerable coastal communities. Their ultimate goal is to prevent as much as 10,000 kilograms of plastic from entering our oceans.
Once again, this campaign makes a lot of sense for their brand and products, so it’s something that their customers and the team behind the brand can truly get excited about.
Nicolas Aagaard, the co-founder of LastObject recently told me more about their reasons for doing this. He said, “Black Friday can cause a lot of consumers to buy items they don’t need because of the attractiveness of the discounts. Our mission is to end the need for single-use items, but this problem stems from overconsumption. Our mission with GREEN FRIDAY is, as much as possible, to remove the negative impact created by Black Friday.”
Food for thought, then: Would an environmental campaign or messaging make sense for your brand and company vision? And is there a particular cause you and your customers believe in that you could help support as part of a “Green Friday”—or similar—initiative?
4 | “Cyber Weekend”
And finally, “Cyber Weekend” is a phrase that’s used heavily within the US but it’s also known within Europe as well.
Although most consumers in Europe say they plan to do their shopping on Black Friday, six percent said they plan to shop on Cyber Monday and across the weekend in between—though not a huge part of the population, it’s still something to be aware of.
The mega-retailer, Amazon, has advertised “Cyber Monday” deals in Germany since as early as 2010. Then in 2014, this was upgraded to an eight-day sales period called “Cyber Monday Week,” which started on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
This year—despite only just finishing its belated Prime Day sales event—Amazon has already started offering more deals, which are available for nearly an entire month (October 26 to November 19, 2020).
What I’ve found most interesting, though, is that this year, Amazon’s using “Black Friday” terminology even on its .de website.
Does this suggest Amazon isn’t concerned about the ongoing court case about the Black Friday trademark in Germany? I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions about that.
I appreciate it can be scary to read about trademark infringement and legal court cases—and especially for something as common as a Black Friday promotion.
Halloween is over for another year so my aim here wasn’t to scare you.
I simply want you to be aware of what’s happening within Germany and how it might impact your business, so you can work with your legal team and make plans for this Black Friday and all the rest to come.
Want to find out how European consumers plan to shop this holiday season? Take a look at the findings.Back to Blog Home