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 “pop-up” bars and beyond. In the most recent Part III of the series, I discussed a book cover modeled to evoke a famous Tennessee whisky. In this post, we stick with the alcoholic beverage theme, but with an archaic twist.
The Dilly Dilly! Campaign
Multinational brewing and beverage company AB Inbev, macro-brewer of Bud Light and countless other beverages, is not necessarily known for its gentle IP enforcement activities. But a few weeks ago it got seriously creative with one of the most impressive combination enforcement/marketing stunts in recent memory.
In case you haven’t been watching television lately, you may not know that recent ads for Bud Light have featured a “medieval” theme: a Bud Light-obsessed monarch and his equally thirsty subjects. The original “Banquet” ad was released in August 2017, to coincide with the season finale of Game of Thrones:
The second “Pit of Misery” ad was released just before Thanksgiving:
Both ads feature the inscrutable catchphrase “Dilly Dilly,” which has become extremely popular (apparently Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called a “Dilly Dilly” audible against the Titans), and which Bud Light VP Andy Goeler likened to the similarly popular Whassup? Budweiser campaign of 1999-2002. Not surprisingly, AB Inbev filed a U.S. federal application to register DILLY DILLY in connection with beer back in September 2017, soon after it became clear that the catchphrase would have legs.
InBev Goes “Olde” School with a Cease-and-Desist Scroll
One DILLY DILLY admirer is Modist Brewing Company in Minneapolis, who planned to launch a “Dilly Dilly” Mosaic Double IPA on December 1, in clear nod the popular catchphrase (not to mention the BUD LIGHT logo): Hearing of the impending launch, AB Inbev naturally objected, but quite possibly in the most appropriate and good-natured way possible – it sent a renaissance-fair-garbed town crier to Modist’s headquarters to read from a beautifully calligraphed cease-and-desist scroll.
“Dear friend of the Crown, Modist Brewery Company,” the scroll reads, “Congratulations on the launch of your new brew…We are duly flattered by your royal tribute. However, ‘Dilly Dilly’ is the motto of our realm. So we humbly ask that you keep this to a limited addition one-time only run. This is by order of the King. Disobedience shall be met with additional scrolls. Then, a formal warning. And finally, a private tour of the pit of misery,” referencing the pit of the eponymous second “Dilly Dilly” ad. As if the demand weren’t benign enough, the scroll also bestowed “two thrones” to the Super Bowl “for two of your finest employees to watch the festivities and enjoy a few Bud Lights on us.”
Modist Responds In Kind
Rather than take its Super Bowl tickets and run, Modist eventually responded with its own scroll, explaining that its employees – rather than “joust for the right” to attend the Big Game – decided to raffle off the tickets to raise money for their favorite charities. The response scroll – which depicted “Dilly Dilly,” obscured by scorch marks, also invited the Bud Light team to the “citadel of Minneapolis” to try Modist’s new beer (Dungeon Juice, keeping to the theme).
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It’s going to be tough to top this one, but I’ve no doubt some enterprising trademark owner will give it a shot. In the meantime, InBev’s onslaught of “Dilly Dilly” ads has continued apace, and it will surprise no one to learn that, after the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory over the New England Patriots, InBev celebrated with a “Philly Philly” campaign during the victory parade, where presumably well-behaved Philadelphians could score free Bud Light along the parade route.