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.