HowStuffWorks Attempts To Explain Why Advertisers Use Super Bowl Euphemisms, But I Have A Simpler Explanation

from the the-big-lame dept

It’s common knowledge at this point why advertisers start to go wonky after the new year. We’ve long talked about how all kinds of groups and companies suddenly begin playing the euphemism game when it comes to the Super Bowl, America’s annual celebration of brain trauma. Everyone, from comedians to beer makers to tech companies, goes to great lengths to wink at everyone as they all refer to the Super Bowl by any name other than its own. Why? Well, because the NFL has a trademark on the term, which allows it to restrict the user of the phrase only to its sponsorship partners… except that that’s not remotely true and isn’t how trademark law works at all. Instead, the only real prohibition is on the implication that a company is an official sponsor of the NFL when it isn’t. Beyond that, simply calling the game what it’s called isn’t trademark infringement.

But this is confusing enough that this year the website HowStuffWorks has done an entire piece to explain to an almost certainly confused public why companies are pretending that nobody knows what they’re talking about when they say “the big game” instead of “the Super Bowl.” It’s a post that deserves a rebuttal, which I will helpfully provide.

The Super Bowl is a registered trademark of the NFL. And the football league also owns the copyright to the telecast of the game. That’s why advertisers use unregistered phrases like “the Big Game” or “the football championship” when hawking a furniture sale or happy hour, for instance. The NFL allows the Super Bowl sponsors and the network airing the game that year to use the phrase, but they pay heavily for it.

Not true. Those advertisers pay to be official sponsors, not to simply use the phrase. Anyone can use the phrase Super Bowl as a means for accurately describing the name of the game about which they are talking. They just can’t claim to be sponsors, nor imply a relationship with the NFL. If Best Buy advertises a big screen television as the “preferred TV on which to watch the Super Bowl,” that’s a no-no. But if it says it is running a sale on big screen TVs and to get yours before Super Bowl Sunday, that ain’t trademark infringement.

So, the explanation for why advertisers don’t say “Super Bowl” in that manner isn’t because the NFL has the intellectual property rights to it, it’s because the NFL is a duplicitous money-monster that has perpetrated a farce in pretending trademark law is something that it isn’t.

“The NFL wants to make sure they keep their sponsorships the way they want to control who has use of the phrase,” says Anderson. “That way people can know what’s directly connected to the NFL and their product.” Trademark infringement occurs when someone uses a trademarked term (like “Super Bowl”) in a way that may cause a person to wrongly infer an official connection between the company the trademark belongs to and the product advertised.

The NFL absolutely wants that, and it regularly bullies anyone who uses the phrase in a nominative manner in any kind of advertising or social media. But the “how” part of HowThatWorks isn’t answered by trademark law. It’s a combination of the aforementioned misleading of the public along with the NFL’s regular practice of being a protectionist idiot.

Because the NFL should want the term said as often as possible by as many people, and companies, as possible:

It’s unnecessarily stupid for the NFL, which should want “Super Bowl” said as often as possible, because until 100% of TVs new and old are tuned to the Big Game, the league has not accomplished its goal of complete domination of American consciousness. Best Buy wants to have a Super Bowl sale? Great! That’s a free ad for the NFL, which should thank a non-sponsor for promoting their product.

This is not, however, how the NFL thinks. This is the same league that banned its own teams from posting GIFs of game highlights, ostensibly to protect its TV partners, as if any GIF-worthy play isn’t being turned into a GIF by a thousand different people and going viral anyway. Shouldn’t the league want its teams to reap the benefits of all those clicks, which convert to social media followers, which convert to deeper embedding of the product, through official channels, in the minds of consumers?

Nah, the league would much rather play language cop in a silly game it has made out of trying to alter trademark law simply by out-jackass-ing the Olympics. And, hey, it’s worked! By simply pretending trademark law is something that it isn’t, the NFL has managed to get the world’s advertisers to play pretend along with the league. And what a victory it is, what with every advertiser using barely-disguised euphemisms for the game that we all know they’re talking about. Victory!

So, how does this work? Not in the way HowStuffWorks describes. The NFL acts as a protectionist lie-geyser bully through a legal team on more figurative steroids than the league’s field-hands. That’s how it works.

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Comments on “HowStuffWorks Attempts To Explain Why Advertisers Use Super Bowl Euphemisms, But I Have A Simpler Explanation”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Grasping IP smokedancers

I’ve a very simple solution to the NFL, Sony, AT&T, and others like them – Totally banned. I don’t do business with them in any way that I can help. Sony is one that slides under the toilet lid now and again because their IP is on many motherboard (in some chips) and all blue-ray (which I won’t buy).

As for the NFL, I have not watched a game in more than a decade – that’s when I decided that I like my integrity and dignity more than I like their games. I don’t go in person, I don’t watch on TV, and I could not care any less what the teams are doing. I don’t own anything with their IP and I don’t refrain from telling others that the NFL in my opinion should be a criminal organization. And before you ask – why, yes, I do get odd looks. That is until I start recounting news stories of their antics. Funny looks soon turn to disgust.

One thing I’ve noticed – the less people like the NFL understand and connect with fans, the more they are grasping fools, intent on destroying their franchise when they think they are “defending” it. The tighter their grip, the more runs through their fingers, leaving them with their just deserts – nothing at all.

I wish them the joy of it.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

the NFL has managed to get the world’s advertisers to play pretend along with the league

A lot of them enjoy the same game. Or their business relations do.

Look, you can’t say your prices are low than Best Buy! That’s our trademark! Look, we don’t even utter the The Game Which Must Not Be Named when we speak of the Big Game. It’s like uttering god’s true name, and you wouldn’t do that, would you?

4thDown says:

“If Best Buy advertises a big screen television as the “preferred TV on which to watch the Super Bowl,” that’s a no-no. “

….it’s not a strict legal violation… because that supposed ‘Best Buy’ wording says absolutely nothing about “Who” prefers to watch the Super Bowl on their TV’s.

If BestBuy claimed that their TV’s are: ” the NFL preferred TV on which to watch the Super Bowl” — then that would be a legal no-no.

If I own a bar in Nebraska and advertise that it is “The best bar in town to watch the Super Bowl” — there’s nothing legally actionable there.

(of course, NFL lawyers can sue a ham sandwich if they feel like it or just want to intimidate people … but winning the case is a different story)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Trademark infringement

Proving Trademark Infringement in court can be difficult.

NFL lawyers must prove that the defendant’s (Best Buy here) use of the “Super Bowl” trademark causes a likelihood of confusion about product source or affiliation with the NFL.

Are consumers likely to understand that that TV’s sold by Best Buy may come from sources other than the trademark owner (NFL) ?? You betcha — nobody would think the NFL is actually supplying television sets to Best Buy… merely by seeing the term Super Bowl in a Best Buy ad.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Very obvious

‘why i hate sports…’
then you are a fool…
that people take issue with the multifarious ways modern pro (and some big time amateur) sports are ‘bad’ is fine; that you condemn all of sports because of a minor subset is foolish…
(FAR MORE amateurs participate in ALL sports then the totality of the pros…)
keeping the meat machine in shape to support the wet ware is important; sports are a very good way to do that, regardless of the excesses of pro sports versions…
sports can impart MANY important life lessons and provide great means of teaching kids all sorts of generally desired behaviors…
(i would only add one other confounding point: do you believe in freedom ? IF you say you do (actually, you probably don’t), then you would have to allow people the freedom to make ‘stupid’ (one person’s stupid…) decisions, such as playing a game where you might incur a concussion(s) with lasting effects… damn that freedom thing, it is so-o-o-o annoying to get in the way of a perfected world ! ! ! snicker)

Monday (profile) says:

Application of "what you wrote up there"

So, does this apply to most things, If, one used the event, any event, precisely as explained above?

ie. Grey Cup/World Cup/a World Famous Marathon/Davis Cup/Wimbledon/PGA???

And, if so, why don’t more businesses and companies use this knowledge to their advantage? It seems like they’re sitting in El Dorado and they don’t even realize it.

Just sayin’

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The same way all other drones are taken in by advertising. I saw it on TV!!! It was one of those Super Bowl commercials one is not allowed to miss!!! See the press coverage of the commercials. They told me I am not allowed to miss them.

Oh…wait…I am going to miss the Super Bowl altogether…shame on me, save my soul, but I do believe I will continue to exist and will be better for not having seen either the Super Bowl or their commercials.

peter says:

really simple

“Because the NFL should want the term said as often as possible”. Sure, if you are looking at the big picture and long term

However, there is some executive in charge of monetizing “valuable IP”, and his/her’s annual bonus depends on this year’s takings. Therefore when they should be leaning back in their armchairs with the satisfaction of all that free publicity, there are lawyers, legal threats and lawsuits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Every year I have cared less and less about the Super Bowl. I didn’t even know who was playing let alone care. This year I didn’t care at all. ZERO! You know what I did on Sunday? READ. I was reading for HOURS. The TV wasn’t even on. I didn’t even watch a single commerial from it this year either. Didn’t give a crap about the half time show. I think my phone popped up the score last night but I don’t remember who won as I won’t even remember who played.

I’m not a Sports person, but I used to watch a little football. Now I just really don’t care at all.

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