It’s one of those shapes as iconic as a stop sign, communicating a message as primordial to our minds as the winged symbol for a hurricane or the smiley face. It’s the toothpaste nurdle.
That’s right, “nurdle” – which, if you didn’t know, is the word for a small amount of toothpaste akin to what consumers might normally squirt on a toothbrush. It's a shape that everyone recognizes, and an outline that has graced many a toothpaste package from time immemorial.
Except that’s where the agreement ends about the wave-shaped blob of toothpaste. As often happens with a symbol so powerful, folks get possessive about it. Including the world's two biggest toothpaste-makers.
As the appropriately-named Clifford Marks notes in the Wall Street Journal, Colgate-Palmolive, maker of Colgate toothpaste, filed a suit in federal court in Manhattan against GlaxoSmithKline alleging trademark infringement over GSK’s use of a nurdle.
And not just any nurdle, but the nurdle that forms part of its Aquafresh logo and can be found not only on its packaging but online (whereit has a Nurdle World and a Nurdle Shmurdle song).
Colgate is seeking a court ruling declaring that the nurdle should be available for use by all dental health manufacturers, and to declare that Colgate's three-striped nurdle is not similar to GSK's.
"If any oral care product manufacturer were to be prohibited from using nurdle images on product packaging, that manufacturer would be at a competitive disadvantage," the Colgate suit states.
It's not just nurdles that have toothpaste-makers' tubes in a twist, but also the use of the phrase “Triple Action.”
“Triple Action” sounds more like an attribute of a gun, but in toothpaste parlance, it’s meant to convey the multitasking capabilities of the product. To Colgate, for instance, Triple Action means cavity protection, fresh breath and whiter teeth, so it wants the phrase protected as part of the nurdle ruling.
GlaxoSmithKline, as might be expected, has promptly countersued and is fighting back.
No one knows where this drama will go. But you may never look so dismissingly at a nurdle again.