The $200,000 Oscar Swag Bag

OscarsA brand is a very valuable asset.

Sometimes a business can “hitch a ride” on someone else’s brand, and generate some additional sales thanks to a famous brand. You have to be VERY careful when doing this though — do it the wrong way and you could get sued.

Super Bowl Ads

You may have noticed around the time of the Super Bowl you’ll see a lot of ads from all sorts of companies selling all sorts of things, from chips to groceries, tie their ads to “The Big Game.” We all know they’re talking about the Super Bowl, not the Cal-Stanford game. Do they really have to do that?

In most cases no; they are being overly cautious. As long as an ad would not somehow fool people into thinking that the product was endorsed by the NFL (the trademark owner) mentioning the Super Bowl is not a violation of trademark.

However — and this is a big “however” — the NFL is notoriously rigid about protecting the “Super Bowl” brand, and they could sue you, even if they would eventually lose. And defending the lawsuit could cost more than its worth. Hence the ads referring to “The Big Game.”

Oscar Swag

On the other hand, a recent lawsuit brought by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people) against Fary, et.al., is a case that the defendants would likely lose.

Distinctive Assets is a marketing company that specializes in “celebrity seeding.” The company’s website proclaims

…we spearheaded the proliferation of award show swag and boast an impressive résumé of prestigious events that includes the GRAMMY®s, Latin GRAMMY®s, Tonys, American Music Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards, BET Awards and Academy of Country Music Awards, celebrity placement is just the tip of the iceberg.

They also claim

We enjoy a reputation in our industry for introducing fabulous, useful, unique and cutting-edge products to our high-profile clientele. Stars remark on both quality and quantity as well as on the thoughtfulness that goes into our gift ensembles.

Distinctive Assets has been in the news lately for its $200,000 “Oscar Swag” bag, and the publicity has NOT been all that favorable. The headline alone from a recent Forbes article almost says it all: “The $200,000 Oscars Gift Bag: The Business Of Vibrators, Breast Lifts And More Absurd Swag.”

The “bag” contains certificates for things such as a $1,900 “Vampire” Breast Lift, that uses a woman’s own blood to pump up her breasts; a $50,000 trip to Israel and a $45,000 walking tour of Japan; high end sex toys and marijuana vaporizers. And a $275 roll of Swiss toilet paper. That’s right, one roll for $275. Probably be cheaper to use $1 bills.

The Forbes article points out:

Given that the average American family only earns $53,657 a year, these $230,000 gift bags appear at best lavish, at worst disgusting.

Distinctive Assets has no connection with the Academy. In fact the company did a similar thing last year, and the Academy was upset, and Distinctive Assets agreed not to do it again.

Distinctive Assets has a list of press coverage on its website; many of the articles do not mention that there is no connection between the bags and the Oscars.

The Academy sued Distinctive Assets, and its owner, Lash Fary, for false advertising as well as trademark dilution and infringement. The Academy’s complaint says

The Academy regrets having to bring this suit to compel Distinctive Assets to stop its false, confusing, misleading, infringing, and diluting actions. However, Distinctive Assets’ persistent unlawful behavior and disregard of its own agreement to stop its false associations leaves the Academy no choice.

The Academy is also not happy about the bad press:

Press about the 2016 gift bags has focused on both the less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products contained in the bags…and the unseemliness of giving such high value gifts, including trips costing tens of thousands of dollars, to an elite group of celebrities.

Bottom Line

Sometimes a business can get a little “extra wind in its sails” by connecting itself to an established brand, but it’s an action that must be done with caution as it can lead to a lawsuit — even if done in a legal way.


(Photo Credit: "Pixar Oscar" by Marcin Wichary is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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