Creative Trademark Enforcement Part II: Shutting Down The Upside Down

Over the past few years, we have seen numerous instances of companies protecting their trademarks in creative ways – approaches that leverage humor and the brands themselves in order to achieve an acceptable legal outcome while simultaneously promoting the company and its brands, thus minimizing the risk of public relations blowback. In this “Creative Trademark Enforcement” series of blog posts, I’ll be exploring some of the more interesting takes on this approach, from singing lawyers to town criers and beyond. In Part I of the series, I discussed VELCRO® Brand’s “Don’t Say Velcro” video, in which a group of lawyers literally sing and dance to stave off genericide. As strange as that sounds, this post is about something even stranger.

The Upside Down Pop-Up Bar

Stranger Things, Netflix’s breakout love letter to 1980s supernatural cinema classics, has surely spawned plenty of unauthorized costume parties and other ambush marketing events at bars and restaurants across the country, but one Chicago establishment went a bit too far.  Back in August of this year, the team behind the Emporium Arcade Bar in Logan Square launched a Stranger Things-themed “pop-up bar” called The Upside Down, named after the (SPOILER ALERT) cold, mysterious, and altogether creepy alternate dimension introduced in the show’s first season, and where (SERIOUSLY, SPOILER ALERT) fan-favorite Barb presumably still lies (RIP Barb, we hardly knew ye).  The bar had a distinctly ‘80s vibe, with plenty of implicit and explicit call-outs to the show, including cocktails named after the characters and events, posters reminiscent of the program’s title graphics, and plenty of off-season Christmas lights in case Will Byers felt like dropping in for a Shirley Temple. The Upside Down bar was originally planned for a six-week run but, due to its popularity, the Emporium folks were considering extending it.

Netflix Declines To “Go Full Dr. Brenner”

Netflix unsurprisingly objected.  Rather than sending a standard cease-and-desist letter, however, Netflix’s Senior Counsel sent a short, friendly letter very much in the spirit of Stranger Things itself, full of show references and replete with ‘80s kid lingo.  “My walkie talkie is busted…” the letter began, “…and I don’t want you to think I’m a total wastoid…but it’s important to us to have a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.”  The letter, which assured the Emporium that it was Netflix’s intention “not to go full Dr. Brenner on you” (invoking one of the season’s key antagonists), politely requested that the pop-up bar shut down after its six-week run, and that the Emporium folks ask for permission if they plan a similar event in the future.

The clever and good-natured letter, combined with its relatively gentle demands, was widely hailed as a both a legal and marketing victory for Netflix.

Below is an image of the Netflix letter. I’ll be back soon with more totally righteous creative enforcement strategies.

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