In the language of marketing, when one speaks of the individual in relation to the sphere of purchasing essential goods, one calls him or her a ‘consumer’. This term, not particularly well-chosen, emphasises the purely functional act of consumption, stripping it of the immaterial that instead predominantly guides the individual’s life and, consequently, his choices.

It is not just a matter of vocabulary. Very often, even in practice, one looks at consumer attitudes and behaviour as if they were free of the complexity of the person.

To the credit of the ‘market experts’, this does not correspond to reality at all. As in many other cases, this partial view does not translate at all into effective simplification. On the contrary, viewing reality with a lens that instead of magnifying it confines it, ends up compromising the possibility of fully understanding it.

This is particularly evident when it comes to PDO and PGI products. The way in which this guarantee is expressed seems airtight: no less than two signifiers – the name and the trademark – refer the ‘consumer’ to the concept of a specific product, attesting that it is exactly that.

The individual, however, defies the mechanistic rules of cause-effect or message = awareness. Sometimes he goes beyond them, in other cases he disregards them. However, precisely because of this partial contradiction, the guidances written to protect the ‘ideal consumer’ may end up failing to protect the real individual, failing – in essence – the rationale that should determine them.

Market research we recently conducted in Italy, France and Germany shows how the rules for protecting the ‘ideal consumer’ on the subject of PDOs and PGIs are insufficient to protect the real individual in his or her consumption choices.

Using a battery of questions developed over years of research on the topic of brand protection, we asked respondents to call the products by the name they use on a daily basis to talk about them. We extended the survey to some of the most popular protected products, observing several references and for completeness, we compared them with those of their generic competitors.

In all three countries and in all cases, the name currently used to define protected products was found to be an abbreviation of the full name.

This evidence was overwhelming.

For example, in Italy, in front of a virtual shelf 84% of the respondents chose a PGI reference of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. When asked what they commonly call that product, 48% of them used a more colloquial ‘Aceto balsamico’ and only 6% quoted ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ in full.


Source: Eumetra research for Consorzio di tutela dell’Aceto Balsamico di Modena

In France, the phenomenon repeated itself, becoming more pronounced. Among the 71% who chose a PGI reference, the percentage of those who abbreviated to ‘Vinaigre Balsamique’ was 45%, while the full citation was expressed by an even smaller percentage of 3%.


Source: Eumetra research for Consorzio di tutela dell’Aceto Balsamico di Modena

In Germany, the abbreviated terms became two and the full citation almost disappeared. Among the 68% of those who chose a PGI reference, 26% called it simply ‘Balsamico’, while 23% called it Balsamic Vinegar (or Balsamico Essig). The full mention was the prerogative of only 1%.


Source: Eumetra research for Consorzio di tutela dell’Aceto Balsamico di Modena

This phenomenon also occurs in a similar way for the other protection products observed. It should be noted that the more well-known the product is, the greater the intensity with which this phenomenon recurs. It is as if, as familiarity increases, one ends up forging a personal abbreviation.

There would be nothing wrong with this in itself. Indeed, marketing prophets would rejoice to know that a product is so familiar to its audience that it has carved out a different, simpler and more immediate name for itself.

What better proof of having ‘pierced the screen’?

Yes, because it must be remembered that today, not the ‘ideal consumer’ but the real individual – all of us – are constantly pelted with billions of messages, of input on product features and merits. The most accurate market surveys show how this generates knowledge but also, and above all, confusion. All the inputs we receive end up cancelling each other out.

There is not much to be done: by overloading the ‘consumer’ more and more with messages, the individual grasps less and less. Therefore, gaining a slice of attention – a remnant of intimacy – in this confusing drift is undoubtedly a relevant fact.

But there are also downsides.

We have said that one of the two principles on which the protection of the ‘ideal consumer’ is based is that of the name, e.g. ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena”. But what if real individuals refer to the authentic product using a simplified and abbreviated name such as ‘aceto balsamico’ or the ‘balsamico’?

In cases where these simplified names that take up only a portion of the registered and protected name are used to distinguish a generic product (belonging to the same product category), it is easy to assume that the consumer, precisely because of this overlapping of the terms used, may be led to associate the generic products with the authentic ones.

This phenomenon, subject to due clarification for each specific case, should lead to considering the possible presence of the habit of the real individual to shorten the compound names of certain PDOs and PGIs as a relevant element in the assessment of evocation. This seems, moreover, to be the path taken and suggested by the decision of the First Board of Appeal of the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office) of 26 November 2022.

Therefore, if in current use the individual changes one of the two signifiers that refer to the concept of a PDO or PGI product – i.e. the name – protection can only update the perimeter in which the case of evocation occurs.

In fact, the legal instruments of consumer protection and intellectual property protection that exist and operate in the EU system should be able to guarantee the real purchaser: the real individual and not the ‘ideal consumer’.