DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

The (South) Butt of the Joke?

Posted in Branding, First Amendment, Guest Bloggers, Infringement, Law Suits, Marketing, Trademarks

We’ve had a little rash of graphic design comedic parody lately.

North Face South Butt logos

The first example is the notoriously funny The South Butt and its tagline "Never Stop Relaxing". Of course, this is an obvious knockoff of leading outdoor clothier The North Face and its "Never Stop Exploring" call to action. From a legal perspective, of course, this is a bit problematic – especially when The South Butt began selling apparel. (Until then, a fun mockery might have earned them a nasty letter, but not a full-on lawsuit).

However, whether The North Face likes it or not, it is a victim of its own popularity. While the company was still a niche brand, focusing on only seasoned outdoorspeople, no one cared. But once it crossed over into high fashion (and became the must-have in every 13-year-old girl’s wardrobe), a backlash was inevitable. The same thing happened to Abercrombie and Fitch (remember the raucously funny MadTV sketches)?

From a marketing perspective, The North Face should be content to let this go. Yes, it’s irritating, and yes, legally it’s an affront. But making too big of a deal of the situation likely will backfire.

Here’s another example that should not be taken lying down.

HSUS and HumaneWatch logos

If I were the Humane Society of the United States, I would be preparing my lawsuit at this moment. Say what you will about the politics of the HSUS (suffice to say, it is not just about finding homes for adorable puppies), HumaneWatch is making a visual affront to the organization and its ability to distinguish itself in the market. In short, the competing organization is using HSUS intellectual property (the logo) to bolster its own low standing, confusing people into paying attention.

Whatever side of the political/moral/business issue you might be on, this has to be stopped.

Related Links:

http://www.thesouthbutt.com/

http://www.humanewatch.org/

—Jason Voiovich, Principal and Co-Founder of Ecra Creative Group and Author of the State of the Brand weekly column

  • http://www.anchorplateip.com Pete Salsich

    Jason,
    Your point about North Face’s potential PR backlash from its aggressive stance against South Butt is dead on. Too often companies set out to prove a point with litigation and end up regretting it later. This could be such a case. I blogged about this case a few weeks ago and have been following the case fairly closely as it is pending in St. Louis and we know some of the attorneys involved. Interestly, it’s also just possible that South Butt’s decision to defend the case in the media could end up having equally unintended consequences, too. Either way, it’s an object lesson — attorneys need to ensure that their clients’ IP litigation strategy actually furthers their business/marketing/PR strategy.
    As for the HumaneWatch.org case, I’m not so sure it’s a slam dunk for HSUS — I think there could be serious questions about whether HumaneWatch’s logo would be considered a commercial use, which could undermine any claims of trademark dilution under Mattel v. MCA Records and the federal anti-dilution statute. There’s no question it invites a visceral response, but pursuing litigation could end up giving HumaneWatch exactly what it wants. It will be interesting to follow as it develops.

  • Ryan Lobato

    How on earth could you report this and not mention the unbelievably funny Answer filed by South Butt?!? It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of legal writing I have ever read!
    http://anticipatethis.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/southbuttreply1.pdf

  • Jennifer

    I don’t know, guys. I think HSUS would be stupid to jump into court over this. There’s no way a reasonable person would confuse one logo for the other, and I have a feeling the HumaneWatch website will be pretty critical of HSUS anyway — so it’s not like anyone will be confused as to who’s who.
    I see this one as being something like the “Adbusters” take-off on the U.S. flag, with corporate logos replacing all the stars.