If truth is stranger than fiction, I'm not sure where this cease and desist letter, sent from the National Pork Board to online retailer ThinkGeek, regarding the marketing for its canned unicorn meat, falls.
In the 12-page letter sent from Faegre & Benson, LLP (via facsimile and certified mail), the National Pork Board lawyers say ThinkGeek's marketing slogan for its Radiant Farms Canned Unicorn Meat as "Unicorn -- the new white meat" infringed upon the slogan the pork industry has been using for the past 23 years, which refers to pork as "the other white meat."
As evidence of the confusion this has caused, the letter points out other web sites that have linked back to ThinkGeek's product and tied it to the phrase "the other white meat." It also provides links to a Facebook page and a blog post on "The Frisky," including screen shots of the offending infringing URLs.
During the research that must have cost the National Pork Board a few hundred dollars an hour in legal fees, I can't believe that anyone thought to read the description of the product. Launched on April Fools' Day, it says unicorns "frolic all over the world, pooping rainbows and marshmallows" before they retire to County Meath, Ireland, where the Sisters of Radiant Farms "massage each unicorn's coat with Guinness daily and fatten them on a diet comprised entirely of candy corn." There's more, of course, describing the "sparkly meat" with a flavor like "candied almonds" and the crunch of the unicorn horn, added to the meat, "an excellent source of Calcium." My seven- and five-year-old children were in stitches by the time I got to "marshmallows." Could these attorneys have thought it was real?
Finding the Humor in Unicorn Meat
Other than providing amusement for my children and the geeks all over Twitter (who probably eat plenty of pork), the most shameful part about this flagrant misuse of attorneys' fees is that it indicates a complete misunderstanding of social media. Yes, there is a distinct inability to think critically; as the ThinkGeek blog post states dryly: "We'd like to publicly apologize to the NPB for the confusion over unicorn and pork--and for their awkward extended pause on the phone after we had explained our unicorn meat doesn't actually exist."
Pamela Johnson, Director of Consumer Communications for the National Pork Board, has a different take on the phone call between "a roomful" of Faegre attorneys and the corporate counsel for ThinkGeek parent, Geeknet. "We did know it was a joke, but our lawyers were doing their part to protect our brand," she said. "From the very beginning, they did know it was a joke, and the lawyers are going to be following up with ThinkGeek directly."
For ThinkGeek, however, the mirth overflows; ThinkGeek's PR manager, Shane Peterman, told me that the fax arrived at Geeknet's headquarters while the shareholder's meeting was in process, coincidentally, at ThinkGeek offices. CEO Scott Kauffman told the employees present about the letter and, said Peterman, "we all thought it was absolutely hilarious... there was a roomful of laughter." The company prepared a press release of apology; but, Peterman told me, it was rejected by the PR wires. "Was it a kind of weird conspiracy to keep us from talking about unicorn meat?" said Peterman. His theory certainly makes more sense than the idea that a large law firm might believe in unicorns.
Missing Out on a Social Networking Ballyhoo
There is, among the pork industry, also a lack of sensibility for geek culture in general. I asked Peterman about this; in the company's press release, a number of bacon-themed products were highlighted. ThinkGeek sells, among other delicious (or profane) products, Bacon Gumballs and MMMMVelopes, bacon-flavored envelopes. Do geeks like pork, in general? Yes, he replied, and: "if you look at the number of bacon products we sell on our website, we're doing a good job on spreading the good word for pork." Peterman, however, is a vegetarian.
If the National Pork Board had any sense, it would be cultivating the ongoing craze over things-with-bacon. Why haven't they started a meta-site highlighting the most raucous uses of pork, like the famous bacon maple bar at Voodoo Doughnut here in Portland, Oregon; or the Bacone (a waffle-cone shaped bacon container for eggs, hash browns, and cheese, topped with a biscuit)?
I asked Johnson if she would agree that bacon is fun ("yes!"); and said that, in my opinion, the organization's "New Look!" web site is very dry. It's informational, yes, but not at all fun. "You could have visited our site on International Bacon Day," she said, pointing me instead to TheOtherWhiteMeat.com and adding that "where appropriate... we do have the fun when we can celebrate it; we mainly inform, and make sure we're the one-stop resource for pork."
It's hard to see this through Johnson's glasses. From the geek perspective, the attorneys for the company are out of touch and the NPB is approaching a very delicious product with the wrong angle. As the NPB ironically starts the search for a new slogan, it is becoming the butt of the jokes when it could so easily be joining in the laughter.
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