Monday, January 23, 2006

Charbucks Coffee: Great Moments In Corporate Brand Rip-Offs

In a move sure to set the hopes of corporate name-coveters the world over aflutter, a New York federal court ruled that a New Hampshire-based coffee company may keep selling "Charbucks" coffee after a decade-long legal fight with Starbucks Corp. There was no evidence, apparently, that there was an intention to "mislead consumers about a connection between the two" coffee brands.

Let's enter the dream of an unnamed Starbucks executive the night following the ruling, shall we?
"Gee, Sally, I could sure go for a good, piping hot, bold-yet-smooth coffee down at the corner Charbucks!"

"Charbucks, Tommy? Don't you mean Starbucks, the ubiquitous planetary coffee megapower?"

"Yes, of course! I mean… wait, I'm confused!"

Okay, that was scary.

Of course, this wasn't the first time the good name of Starbucks was mercilessly riffed upon. Everyone remembers the South Park episode in which coffee mega-chain Harbucks moved into town to bump aside small town institution Tweek's Coffee. Ironically, the infamous underpants gnomes – surreptitious raiders of little boys' underpants in the night – remind us that "profit" is the third key step after stealing this material.

We can only wonder if Black Bear Micro Roastery – the Dream Team behind the name Charbucks – took the underpants gnomes' lesson to heart.

[ADBLOCKHERE]Going back further, there was the setting of McDowell's fast food eatery in the film Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy. McDowell's, of course, was an open bid to borrow the good name of another brand tattooed upon the brains of billions (and billions): McDonald's. While the character portrayed by John Amos and his family clearly didn't live the lifestyle of African royalty, they were obviously comfortable. And though, in a key filmic moment, we see Amos chasing off a photographer who undoubtedly worked for attorneys in the employ of McDonald's, the cultural tone vis-à-vis Hollywood was broadcasted loud and clear: Use Your Illusion. Or the name of a really really big company but just change it a little bit.

Across the small towns of America, a plague of brand ripoffmanship can be seen if you dare seek it out. In the college town of Binghamton, New York, for instance, there is Kennedy Fried Chicken, a popular late night stop for all things cheap and greasy. Do the kids and town folk mind that there's potentially sinister semantical wordplay involved in getting a three-piece and a biscuit?

Probably not, but somewhere in the heartland a tear runs down the Colonel's face on a KFC billboard.


Jake said...

Hey Eric, your buddy Jake from the East coast here to drop my 2 cents on the whole Kennedy Fried Chicken thing. The bootleg KFC actually exists in more locations than we once thought. I have seen at least 2 locations here in Brooklyn and one while walking around Manhattan. Is Kennedy Fried Chicken a rival chain? And if so, are any of their drive thrus back and to the left?

Eric Berlin said...

Hey Jake, always good to hear from ya. Bootleg KFCs, eh?

Next thing you know there's gonna be bootleg Gray's Papayas and Ray's Pizzas!