A brief study in how the Lion’s Tap could have had its burger and eaten it too.

I have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, I have an irrational love for the Lion’s Tap.

Ever since I worked in Eden Prairie back in the 1990s, I’ve been hooked. Fast forward the better part of a decade, put our family a cool 35 miles away in Shoreview, and we still find ourselves driving nearly an hour on special occasions to grab a burger.

That’s part of what made me so damn mad when I saw McDonald’s latest billboards. Who’s your patty? For Angus burgers? You’ve got to be kidding. Lion’s Tap is "my" patty, thank you very much! They’ve had the slogan on their tastefully tacky t-shirts for over four years.

I thought about it though. I know Lion’s Tap. But my guess is that only a small smattering of people do (perhaps 3-4% of the Twin Cities population if you were to survey). Who are they going to think came up with the slogan? And if they walked into Lion’s Tap tomorrow, who would you think was ripping off whom? That’s right. You guessed it.

It bugged me. I was a bit upset. I was ready to come to my restaurant’s defense.

Until they sued.

You can read more here, but the fact of the matter is that Lion’s Tap decided to run to the courts to remedy what is calls a trademark infringement case.

Here’s the problem, instead of coming off as the victim (which you could argue Lion’s Tap is), they come off as another coffee-in-the-crotch, show-me-the-money, lawsuit-happy opportunist. Just read some of the news stories and read some of the comments to see what I mean, here, here, and here.

Ick.

Let’s explore what Lion’s Tap "could have" done differently, and how it might have panned out.

Step 1: Calm down. I can’t stress this enough. Righteous indignation is a dish best served carefully crafted. Yes, trademark infringement stings, and it can seem like a personal attack, but it is not. It’s just business. McDonald’s creative team could not have had an expectation of prior knowledge of Lion’s Tap.

Step 2: Call the lawyer, but don’t take off his leash [yet]. Your lawyer needs to understand the situation and begin preparing your case, but now isn’t the time to act. Patience.

Step 3: Break out the digital video camera. Here’s where you walk around your cozy little restaurant and ask your loyal customers what they think of McDonald’s doing this to you. If they were like me, their candid responses would have been worth their advertising weight in gold.

Step 4: Get to YouTube. Post the video responses on YouTube. Right away. Start building a groundswell of support. Other people will make their own videos. People will comment. The videos would likely go viral quickly.

Why go though the trouble of Steps of 1 through 4 (instead of jumping ahead to Step 5)?

McDonald’s — your antagonist — ends up looking pretty stupid, as though they copied someone else’s good slogan. Or worse, they look like they’re beating up on the little guy. There’s no way Lion’s Tap could pay for that type of positive exposure. Now, instead of a local hideaway, Lion’s Tap could turn into a citywide sensation, introducing thousands of new people to the restaurant.

Now, Step 5: Sue the bastards. With public opinion behind you, now go after the money. No matter how it turns out, Lion’s Tap would win. They win with broader exposure, they win with a reputation hit to McDonald’s, and they could win a few bucks in court.  

Sorry Lion’s Tap, you screwed up the "order". Only this time, you can’t send it back.

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

UPDATE: Here.

  • Good luck to Lion’s Tap. They don’t stand a chance and McDonald’s can simply change the headline….

  • I think your recommendations are right on the money.

  • This is a can’t loose for Lion’s Tap and may be (gasp!) a publicity grab. They get some press, charged up loyal customers and maybe some compensation. I wonder if the idea came out of a PR agency?

  • Edward Fulton

    I disagree. Here’s why:
    (quoting your blog entry)”Yes, trademark infringement stings, and it can seem like a personal attack, but it is not. It’s just business. McDonald’s creative team could not have had an expectation of prior knowledge of Lion’s Tap.”
    While McDonald’s may not have known about the actual restaurant, it IS reasonable to have an expectation that McDonald’s perform a trademark search prior to beginning an advertising campaign with a new slogan. A simple federal trademark search would have found Lions Tap’s pending application for a trademark of the slogan “Who’s your patty?”.
    Thanks for the chance to offer my two cents. Edward