Over the last decade, we’ve covered Super Bowl topics, it’s that time of year again!

We’ve probed the NFL’s overzealous activities and asked hard fair use questions.

And, with Big Game LII in our backyard, we had a front row ambush marketing seat.

With digital marketing, that front row seat can be anywhere your iPhone takes you:

The top half of the email advertisement from Tuesday, landing in my inbox (shown above), seems to have a better argument for a nominative fair use defense than the the bottom half of the same ad (shown below), agree?

Assuming Birch’s is not an actual licensee, seems to me a rather difficult argument that use of the Super Bowl LIII logo is really fair and necessary for communicating truthfully, but, what say you?

UPDATE:

Hot off the email press and inbox from yesterday, here is another Super Bowl ambush, note their favoring of “Big Game” over “Super Bowl”:

So, they may have avoided the NFL’s wrath, but what about the Patriots and Rams logos on the helmets, fair use, or not, friends?

Here’s to looking at you again, James!

When can a brand owner lawfully use a competitor’s trademark on the brand owner’s product?

Over the years, we’ve lifted away a lot of dust on the hairy subjects of classic trademark fair use, nominative fair use, and comparative advertising, especially in the context of billboard ads.

It isn’t every day we see comparative billboard ads actually affixed to a product in question, so I can’t resist sharing this vacuum cleaner canister that captures all of these legal allergens at once:

For those unfamilar with the fierce competition between the Shark and Dyson vacuum brands, above is a cropped photo of a Shark Lift-Away canister vacuum, from my home closet.

As you can see, the label affixed to the canister portion of the vacuum actually refers to the competing Dyson brand twice. Just imagine what our friend James Mahoney might be thinking.

Why would the leading household vacuum cleaner brand — Shark — stoop to give its competitor Dyson free mentions (albeit negative) and publicity? Isn’t that kind of like punching down?

Actually, I’m not sure whether Shark had yet surpassed Dyson as market leader, when the canister left the store and entered our closet, so the above label might have been a punch up?

And, if comparative advertising induces sales, why does someone who already purchased the product need more reminders — with each use — that Dyson sucks, in more ways than one?

Turns out, the label shown above, as we now know, is fairly easily removed, so I suppose the joke is really on us, for leaving this comparative advertising on the product for more than a long while.

One of the dangers in affixing comparative advertising claims or content to the product itself may be, over time the claim might lose its original truth; perhaps that’s why the label is removable?

Aren’t digital advertising billboards amazing? My iPhone captured this rolling series of images just yesterday, for a health care organization using the Google trademark in the Minneapolis skyway:

My questions, permission, co-branding, no permission, but classic or nominative fair use?

Is Google flattered? Free advertising? Do they care? Should they care?

Discuss, to quote John Welch, on another subject.

Carvanaonline car dealer and operator of “a higher state of car buying” — sports a halo in its non-verbal logo shown above, but is it an angel when using the Google name and logo in t.v. ads?

In other words, is the use licensed by Google or could it be defended successfully without permission as trademark nominative fair use? Dear readers, what do you think?

In the meantime, a good friend Steve Feingold (who wears a halo well), will be delivering a Strafford webinar next month on Co-branding — maybe we can ask him to weigh in on this topic?

Remember this North Memorial Health billboard ad — sporting a plain and literal Google reference — that we wrote about a few months ago, where nominative fair use was pretty clear to me?

Well, a new set of North Memorial billboard ads rolled into to the Minneapolis skyway system, just in time for Super Bowl LII, with essentially the same message, but without a Google mention.

Do you think Google was behind North Memorial’s move away from the Google reference, or was it part of the original plan to grab attention, then migrate to a more generic online search mention?

Does North Memorial showing it is able to communicate essentially the same idea without Google’s help impact the nominative fair use analysis? So, how do you come down on this one?

In case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about Super Bowl LII and the television commercials, as has been typical here on the day after, let’s say I’m still letting it sink in, so stay tuned.

North Memorial Health must be spending significant advertising dollars at the moment, with a variety of ads appearing all over the Minneapolis skyway system, above is one current example.

In addition, there are a series of humorous and sarcastic TV ads that were designed to poke the bear of our broken health care system, congrats to Brandfire on their creative work here.

The current ad campaign follows the health system’s rebrand and slight truncation earlier this year, from North Memorial Health Care to North Memorial Health:

“The brand campaign consists of TV, out of home, digital and print advertisements. It pokes fun at the industry by showing experiences of customers and attitudes of healthcare that are universally frustrating.  The print and outdoor advertisements also demonstrate that North Memorial Health accepts its share of the blame, but commits to working harder to deliver an unmatched experience for the customer.”

So, I guess, if patients admit to having Googled their symptons prior to their appointment, they will no longer be scolded for doing so by doctors, nurses, and other health care providers, right?

But, what about the glaring Google reference in the above skyway ad, did North Memorial Health need permission from Google for the gratuitous reference?

You may recall, a few years back I wrote about Google surviving a genericness challenge (Tucker and Jessica have provided updates), drawing attention to possible meanings of the word Google:

“The word google has four possible meanings in this case: (1) a trademark designating the Google search engine; (2) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using the Google search engine; (3) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using any search engine; and (4) a common descriptive term for search engines in general.”

Seems to me, in the North Memorial Health ad shown above, Google could be understood as the verb meanings in both (2) and (3), as the capitalization doesn’t point uniquely to Google.

There is little doubt that no Google permission is required for the ad, because nominative fair use ought to apply, given the plausible, but not required meaning of the above definition in (2).

More interesting to me though, is the question of whether classic fair use could apply as well to the Google use, given the plausible, but not required meaning of Google in definition (3) above.

If so, I’m not sure I’ve encountered an example or case before where both classic and nominative fair use applied, perhaps this is a first, so what do you really think, without Googling it, of course?

Earlier this year, we contemplated a suitable, accurate, and efficient generic name for the service category created by the highly-disruptive Uber brand: App-Based Ride Service.

A visit to Chicago this past weekend, left me thinking that Ride-Share Service or Ride Sharing are suitable alternatives, that appear to be gaining some traction, as seen here:

RideSharePickUpSign

The sign appears to be designed by the hotel to steer drivers of these kinds of vehicles away from the apparently more-highly preferred and more traditional incoming taxi lane.

Especially interesting to me is that the hotel apparently opted to avoid a generic-looking informational sign with no brand names or logos, like the one at the Minneapolis airport:

App-BasedRideSign

Do you think the hotel knows that using more of another’s trademark than is necessary to fairly identify another’s brand disqualifies the user of the nominative fair use defense?

Conventional wisdom has been that using the visual style and/or logo of another brand is, in fact, more than needed to fairly communicate and refer to the brand by name only.

Does the sign above showing the Uber and Lyft logos suggest that conventional wisdom is eroding, perhaps indicating that a recognizable brand symbol is now nominative fair game?

Or, does using the actual logos suggest that the hotel has arrangements with Uber/Lyft?

If so, the third element of the nominative fair use test would be missing too, but unnecessary, if in fact, permission exists.

Does anyone happen to know if hotels might be paid by a ride share brand to promote their brand, kind of like product placement in a motion picture context?

What is a Super Bowl ad? Typically a Super Bowl ad refers to the ad of a brand that has paid lots of money to air its ad on network television during the Super Bowl, a/k/a The Big Game.

Apparently there are some NFL guidelines CBS had to follow as it began to receive offers of $5 Million for airing thirty second spots, so there is some control exercised by the NFL, it appears.

Not sure how Fiat avoided the NFL ban on “male enhancement products” ads last year — or may a car company allude to another’s banned product and avoid the ban itself?

As we, and others, have written about before, the NFL gets a little crazy about others using the words SUPER BOWL in advertising without the advertiser being an official sponsor.

But, does the appearance or reference to the words “Super Bowl” in an advertisement automatically make it a Super Bowl ad?

To be clear, the NFL doesn’t have an absolute right to forbid all possible use of or reference to the Super Bowl mark or event — especially when nominative fair use may apply.

Word to the wise, don’t try to navigate this fair use question on your own, even if you’re just planning to use the words, knowing you can’t use the logo.

So, what about ads that aren’t broadcast during the Super Bowl, they might be printed or aired leading up to the Big Game, are those Super Bowl ads too?

Would anyone believe the NFL has approved them? Or, do they merely reference another brand, the Super Bowl, in their advertisement, without resulting in any likelihood of confusion?

This gem arrived in my inbox during the course of the week, leading up to Super Bowl Sunday:

DunhamsSuperBowlisComing

What do you think, fair use, or off sides penalty? And, how about this one?

LowrySuperBowlSampler

Last one, was it necessary to avoid use of the Super Bowl mark here and replace with the infamous Big Game instead?

DunhamsSuperBowlSavings

How many letters do you suppose the NFL sends out in the two months following the Big Game?

If you’ve received one, we’d love to here from you, maybe we’ll share your story . . . .

Back to the other kind of Super Bowl ads, some of my favorite “official” Super Bowl ads from Super Bowl 50 were these, in no particular order:

  • Heinz Ketchup’s “Weiner Stampede” — my family loves dogs, what can I say? (USA Today’s AdMeter liked it too: #2);
  • Dorito’s “Ultrasound” — this was hilarious, having been in the delivery room four times, and lacking necessary focus at times, no doubt, but never once distracted with a bag of Dorito’s, at least that I recall anyway (USA Today’s AdMeter liked it too: #3)
  • Honda’s “A New Truck to Love” — can’t resist sheep singing my favorite Queen tune (USA Today’s AdMeter liked it too: #7)

And, I tend to agree with the worst five Super Bowl 2016 ads, according to USA Today’s AdMeter. I’m not sure the Super Bowl is an event where the folks expect to see boring pharmaceutical or laundry detergent ads.

So, which ones did you enjoy?