MANHATTAN (CN) – Bud Light’s nostalgic Super Bowl ad featuring the ghost of its 1980s mascot Spuds MacKenzie has landed the beer behemoth in a trademark dispute in Manhattan federal court.
Spuds Ventures claims in Wednesday’s complaint that Anheuser Busch did not “seek or receive approval from, pay any royalties to or receive any license” from the Delaware-based company, which says it currently owns the Spuds MacKenzie brand, for its 90-second Super Bowl spot.
In a Feb. 2 press release highlighting the return of the canine mascot, Bud Light Vice President Alex Lambrecht said, “There’s no one better than Spuds to celebrate Bud Light, and remind everyone that we don’t just make beer, we enable moments that build and strengthen friendships.”
The ghost of Spuds was voiced in the ad by actor Carl Weathers, known for his roles in “Rocky,” “Predator” and “Arrested Development,” and the commercial was narrated by “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” host Robin Leach.
The 90-second television commercial titled “The Big Game” was created by New York-based advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, who are named as co-defendants in Spuds Ventures’ federal complaint.
The February press release said, “Spuds is coming back temporarily to help spread Bud Light’s message of friendship in 2017 and after the Super Bowl will return to the after-life following the big game.”
According to the complaint, Spuds Ventures’ Mark Thomann is “an entrepreneur who revives dormant brands that were retired and discarded by their former owner, and revitalizes them, typically introducing newly positioned branded products or services that are made relevant again by investing in product innovations that can give a dormant brand a new ‘reason to believe’ and increase the likelihood of a successful revitalization.”
Thomann’s exhumation of outdated brands has included Brim coffee, Coleco®/Colecovision videogames and Cross Colours clothing.
According to its complaint, Spuds Ventures claims it is the only owner of any U.S. federally registered trademarks for Spuds MacKenzie.
The 33-page complaint says that by November 1995, every one of Anheuser Busch Inc.’s Spuds MacKenzie trademarks was deemed “dead” and officially cancelled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Anheuser Busch had abandoned all commercial use of the Spuds MacKenzie brand in 1989, after mounting public pressure suggested the party animal was effectively pitching Bud Light to children.
Spuds Ventures says it purchased the internet domain name www.spudsmackenzie.com in August 2013.
Two years later, according to the lawsuit, Spuds Ventures registered the Spuds MacKenzie trademark for “deodorizing preparations for pet litter boxes; dietary pet supplements in the form of pet treats; dietary supplements for pets; dietary supplements for pets in the nature of a powdered drink mix; feed supplements for pets; medicated grooming preparations for pets, namely, shampoos and cleaning supplies in the nature of ear cleaners; sore skin ointment for pets; vitamins for pets.”
The company says Anheuser Busch crossed the line with its Super Bowl ad temporarily reviving Spuds MacKenzie without permission.
“Either the defendants knew about the plaintiff’s established rights and trademarks, or they were careless, and failed to conduct ordinary due diligence to search for the plaintiff’s trademarks before creating and broadcasting their commercial,” the lawsuit states.
In response, an Anheuser Busch spokesperson said the lawsuit is baseless.
“Anheuser Busch created the Spuds MacKenzie character and used it in Bud Light commercials and promotions,” the company said. “The plaintiff’s only trademark registration for ‘Spuds MacKenzie’ covers pet dietary supplements and grooming supplies. We believe the lawsuit is without merit and intend to vigorously defend against it.”
Spuds Ventures seeks an unspecified amount of damages and is represented by Joseph Gioconda in New York City.
The bull terrier who played Spuds MacKenzie in his 1980s advertisement heyday died in or about 1993, the complaint states.