We need to mention that while we’re not lawyers, we’re really good at ping pong and drinking premium coffee. That said, nothing in this post creates an attorney/client relationship. You should always seek the guidance of an attorney before doing anything ever. Honestly, you should probably reach out to your lawyer before you even read the rest of this blog post.
… We’ll wait. It’s cool …
Now Let Us Bring You Up to Speed With the Rest of the Nation
The NFL trademarked the terms “Super Bowl” and “Super Sunday.” We’re hoping that didn’t just put you in manic mode as you realized the ads you are finalizing either in-house or for a client includes “Super Bowl.”
The NFL even went as far as trademarking slogans, catchphrases and team names associated with the NFL teams. Companies have been advertising around the Super Bowl with synonyms such as “Big Game” or “Game Day.”
According to Ken Basin, a trademark and entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, “the NFL aggressively sends out cease-and-desist letters if “Super Bowl” is used without permission in a commercial context.” This does not necessarily put a company in a legal mess rather than just further scare them not to use the term.
If “Super Bowl” is used by an individual or business to describe the event and not used for commercial intent, then individuals and businesses can use the term. For example, a grocery store can say “Make sure to stock up on chips for the Super Bowl” but the store cannot say they are the “Official Super Bowl Chip Stop.”
Rapid Fire Q&A
We figured you would have some lingering questions at this point. So here are our answers.
Why can’t you use the word “Super Bowl?”
- Because you’re not playing in the Super Bowl.
Can a brand use the term “Super Bowl” on social media?
- Not unless you possess official sponsor status.
Why Can’t Companies Use “Super Bowl” in Their Super Bowl Ads?
- We spoke with the NFL (unofficially), and it appears they do not like the taste of Doritos, McDonalds’ Burgers (they prefer McDowel’s), and they don’t think anyone wearing Nike’s will ever “Just Do It.”
Why Can’t Advertisers Say “Super Bowl?”
- Because 99% of the creative teams at all ad agencies never played a varsity sport and the NFL does not support hipsters (anymore).
What are the Super Bowl trademark rules you should know?
- You’ll be kicking yourself about that new TV you got for the holidays since you cannot host a viewing party on a 55+ inch screen.
What are examples of NFL trademark infringement cases?
- How about that pastor who wanted to throw the party of the year – the Fall Creek Baptist Church received a letter from NFL officials demanding the church’s “Super Bowl Bash” get canceled ASAP. We’re questioning why the NFL isn’t giving that amount of time and resources to a charitable organization like Eva’s Village or Backpacks for Life or The American Cancer Society…but who are we to suggest to the NFL where they should spend their money.
Is your church Super Bowl party illegal?
- Your church can avoid being sued by keeping the screen size small, not charging admission and hosting the party in the usual place of worship. So as long as they are not passing the plate for “offerings” that night.
When is unauthorized use not trademark infringement?
- When you don’t get caught (just kidding, our lawyer didn’t like that answer either). In all seriousness, though, we’d bet that all unauthorized use is trademark infringement, so just use your moral compass.
Should the Monday after the Super Bowl be a national holiday?
- For this to be an actual holiday, we encourage you to start and spread the word for a signed petition, then keep us updated when that starts circulating.
What are some good Super Bowl name alternatives?
- The Small Game
- The Superb Owl (credit = Stephen Colbert)
- The Sunday Before Valentine’s Day
- The Buper Sowl (We’re A/B testing this as we speak)
- The Joe Namath Day of Champions
- The Day The Cleveland Browns don’t play football…ever.
- The Oreo Bowl (The single most overused case study in the history of media)
- Come over and watch the Super Bowl on my 54.9 inch TV
- No Beyonce? – TL;DW
NFL Trademark Infringement: Is the reward worth the risk?
Are the benefits of using “Super Bowl” worth the risks of getting caught? We would say it depends on what type of medium you get caught. While researching the NFL’s trademarks, we could not find any articles outlining the repercussions for using the term.
So, with our experience in marketing (and no experience in trademark and copyright law), we are making the following (very bold) assumptions:
- If you use the term on social media, we assume the repercussions would be moderate.
- If you use the term in an email crafted and sent to existing clients, the repercussions could be mild, if any.
- If you use the term in a commercial, we assume the repercussions would be harsh.
- If you use the term in a video that is shared on your website and social media, the repercussions could be moderate.
- If you use the term in-store without any digital footprint, chances are the repercussions of getting caught could be mild, if any.
The question may arise whether, or not, you could actually get in trouble. Will the NFL really hunt down and penalize a Mom & Pop candle shop for calling themselves “The Super Bowl Smell Masters?” Chances are, that Mom & Pop shop would be far off of the NFL’s radar.
What if, as a marketer, though, you could help your clients steer clear of any trademark infringement possibilities by considering other marketing options?
A Super Call-To-Action
What if the trademark on “Super Bowl” is, really, just a call-to-action to inspire the creative mind within all of us? We sensed an eye-roll there. But think about it – we should be making our clients stand out against the clutter revolved around Super Bowl Sunday.
Point blank, if you want to be anonymous, say “Big Game” or “Game Day.” Anyone who’s anyone uses these terms instead of saying “Super Bowl.”
Consider these marketing ideas instead:
Create New Synonyms
Either create synonyms for Monday Morning Quarterback (trademarked by The Football Network, Inc.) or consider recreating some of these Super Bowl names:
- The Recroom Drunkfest
- The Poolie’s Delight
- The Six Hour Build Up To A Coin Flip
- The I-Waited-Two-Weeks-For-This? Bowl
- The CarQuest International House of Pancakes Geico Bowl
- The Beer Commercial Bowl
- The Oh-Look-There’s-Counter-Programming-Figure-Skating-On Bowl
- The I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Better Bowl
- The Hey-Look-At-That-Commercial-While-I-Steal-The-Last-Piece-Of-Pizza Bowl
- The-I’ll-Cheer-For-The-Opposite-Team-Of-Everyone-Else-In-The-Room-To-Be-Different-And-Controversial Bowl
- The Countdown to the NFL Draft
Coin a Time of Day
Coin a time of day on Super Bowl Sunday that is relatable to fans and viewers. Who says a cheese shop can’t make 3pm on Super Bowl Sunday Brie-O’Clock? And the promotion of their products would go around prepping for that time of day.
Coin an Activity
Coin an activity everyone does leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. Let’s go back to our grocery store example mentioned in the beginning – they can name that mad dash party planners make to pick up chips and dip on Saturday afternoon.
Avoid Alluding to the Super Bowl All-Together
Make mention to the sport of football in general while avoiding alluding to the Super Bowl. For example, a landscape company can come out with a video showing the seasonal lawn care of a backyard where little kids constantly run on because they’re practicing to be the next football starter on their team.
Real Talk: What does this mean to you as a marketer?
You have the opportunity to create campaigns for your clients that reaps short and long-term results.
In the short-term, the creative examples laid out above can help differentiate your clients AND help them avoid a trademark infringement case.
Additionally, by creating a new synonym, the company can stand out and not be mistaken for every other company that avoids saying Super Bowl with “Game Day” or “Big Game.”
By creating marketing content that is not related to the actual event of the Super Bowl, your clients can utilize their content year-round.
By coining an activity or time of day, that activity or can be referred and utilized on a daily basis or during other events and holidays.