MEMO TO CHICK fil-A: WHEN PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE A BULLY YOU GET TO EAT MORE CROW.
Is this yet another example of the “what in the world were they thinking” hubris that often brings well-known brand owners to their knees?
Mr. Bo Muller-Moore, a T-shirt artist in Vermont, has been producing EAT MORE KALE T- shirts, bumper stickers, and paraphernalia for many years.
Somehow he showed up on the radar screen of the lawyers for Chick- fil-A, the well-known fast food restaurant chain. They contacted him several years ago and told him that since Chick- fil-A was using the phrase EAT MOR CHIKIN to identify fast food chicken products and as a domain name he should immediately stop using the phrase EAT MORE KALE for T shirts and bumper stickers.
Through his lawyer, Mr. Muller-Moore told Chick- fil-A to take a hike. Which they did.
Fast forward to August of this year. Mr. Muller-Moore had the audacity to file a federal trademark application to support his use of the phrase EAT MORE KALE, for the shirts and bumper stickers he has been producing all these years. That prompted Chick fil-A to send him another warning letter. As reported in the Burlington Free Press, Chick- fil-A’s lawyer claims that EAT MORE KALE plays off, imitates and misappropriates Chck -fil-A’s “intellectual property” right in the phrase EAT MOR CHIKIN.
I find this use of the term intellectual property to be revealing. Why? Because I believe it shows a mindset that propels the conduct of many contemporary brand owners.
Will Chick- fil-A be forced to back off or back down? I would bet my usual ham sandwich the answer is “You betcha”. The public anger and backlash is in full flower. The petition drive to get them to drop their objections is up and running. If the facts are as reported, it’s virtually impossible to see them proving that customers for their chicken sandwiches will be confused, mistaken, or deceived when they see the phrase EAT MORE KALE on T-shirts. Not only that, they made the mistake of complaining to Mr. Muller-Moore, then walking away when he pushed back several years ago.
Just another case of over the top corporate hubris? Just another classic case of trademark bullying? Yes to both.
But I believe there is an additional explanation. Whether by accident or design, brand owners like Chick- fil-A, seek to assert legal rights in words. Not words that identify goods or services. Words.
Chick- fil-A wants to own the phrase “ EAT MOR[E]____. Apparently they are willing to put up with the bad press to stake their claim. But the only way that they can own this phrase is to prove that EAT MOR is so widely recognized across the full spectrum of American commerce that they are entitled to claim it as their intellectual property.
Does Chick- fil-A have a rational basis to make this claim.
Not from my vantage point. They have fallen victim to the same internally generated view of the world that has their brands at the center of the universe.
So now Chick- fil-A must confront reality. They think that the phrase EAT MOR CHIKEN is famous. It ain’t. Not only that but EAT MORE KALE and EAT MOR CHIKEN are almost certainly going to be allowed to co-exist.
Time to EAT MOR CROW.