We’ve talked a lot about the nominative fair use of trademarks.

Remember the Cars.com billboard that used the Minnesota Twins name as brand bait?

We had some discussion in the comments, where I said this about the Cars.com ad:

Although the billboard doesn’t use the Twins script or logo, I still believe the stronger argument may be that saying "Hey Twins Fans" goes beyond what is necessary to communicate with this class of consumers (important in nominative fair use), especially when the physical context of the ad is in close proximity to Target Field, where the Twins play ball. Seems to me a reasonable expectation, at least under a nominative fair use analysis, that Cars.com should have said something like "Hey Baseball Fans" — that avoids a direct free-ride on the goodwill and emotional ties consumers have to the Twins organization.

Just so you know, I hadn’t seen the above "Baseball Fans" signage on a storefront window in Block e, just around the corner from Target Field and the former location of the Cars.com billboard, but it seems to validate the same point in a picture, so I thought I’d share it.

To quote the first element of the nominative fair use test, do you think referencing "Hey Twins fans" in unsponsored ads is legitimate because "the product cannot be readily identified without using the trademark," or do you think the unbranded use of "baseball fans" on signage in close physical proximity to the only baseball venue in downtown Minneapolis, i.e., Target Field (where the Twins play home games), does the job?

So, really, where do you come down on the trademark fair use issue?

  • Michael Richie

    Same is true for the “Taco Tuesdays” format. Taco John’s goes full force in litigation court to protect the phrase “Taco Tuesdays” No other taco shop can use the same exact phrase as it is trade marked. Not even a mom and pop taco stand can hide from the arms of lawyers.

  • Brent Carlson-Lee

    From a reasonable, layperson’s perspective (i.e. mine) it certainly seems that saying “hey baseball fans” in this context would have done the job, while the specific reference to the Twins was an effort to leverage the team’s goodwill and went above and beyond what was necessary to communicate the ad’s message.