Advertisers’ more zealous efforts to protect such catch phrases could ultimately hurt their brands. Media and legal experts say a new batch of lawsuits may paint companies as overbearing and humorless in the eyes of the public.
“You pay money to position your advertising so it becomes an American idiom,” said Robert Thompson, media professor at Syracuse University. “Parodies in most cases do more good for a company than harm. It gets that brand out there.”
On the flip side, many ad slogans are taken straight from the vernacular, adding a hint of the absurd when a comic or biting rendition of a tag line gets slapped with court papers. In one case, Verizon Wireless filed suit against the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union for using its “Can You Hear Me Now?” slogan to protest layoffs by Verizon VZ.N in the run-up to contract negotiations.
This week, the company sought a ruling to hold the union in contempt after a CWA executive uttered a variation of the phrase during a conference call with reporters.
But with U.S. companies spending millions more dollars on advertising to whet consumer appetites and make their brands stand out, it is small wonder such jokes fall flat.
Other examples include threatened legal action against a spoof of online music providers and earlier this month, News Corp. NCP.AX network Fox News sued Al Franken for trademark infringement. The liberal humorist had taken a jab at Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan in an upcoming book title.
“They are being overly sensitive to brand image protection and there’s no sense of humor left in business,” Jack Myers, editor of a media industry newsletter, said of the lawsuits.