LeBron James made a video ad this week mocking Taco John’s trademark phrase “Taco Tuesday,” while Jack in the Box mocked Taco Bell by filing for a trademark registration for “Taco Tuesnight.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon even fired a salvo in the war for Taco Tuesday with a video spot of his own on Twitter that told Taco Bell it’s beef with Taco John’s is “loco.”
Welcome to the World Taco War, where everyone is talking tacos in the name of fast food freedom.
In the midst of this trademark tap dance is something Taco Bell probably never intended when it filed that petition to yank its much smaller rival’s trademark.
The publicity has taken Taco John’s story far and wide, and all around the world.
Now more people than ever are hearing how a small Wyoming chain with pluck and delicious tacos trademarked “Taco Tuesday” in 1989.
More Than 1 Billion Views
Taco John’s spokesman Barry Westrum told Cowboy State Daily the company has had more than 1 billion media impressions globally since the taco war began last week.
Downloads of its mobile app, meanwhile, are up 25%, and both foot traffic and sales in stores are also up “significantly,” he said.
The mobile app, by the way, is the only way for customers to take advantage of the chain’s recent Taco Tuesday every day promotion, going on through the end of May.
That’s two tacos for $2, which is like 1980s pricing.
Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel, in announcing the deal, thanked Taco Bell for “reminding everyone that Taco Tuesday is best celebrated at Taco John’s.”
“We love celebrating Taco Tuesday with Taco lovers everywhere,” he said. “And we want to offer a special invitation to fans of Taco Bell to liberate themselves by coming by to see how flavorful and bold tacos can be at Taco John’s all month long.”
The Taco Tuesday every day campaign has been so popular, Westrum told Cowboy State Daily, the company is thinking about extending the offer to thank fans for the overwhelming support.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar extends into June,” he said. “But we have not finalized our plans on that just yet. But everything is moving very quickly.”
It was just last week on Tuesday that Taco Bell tried to drop a publicity bomb on Taco John’s with its petition seeking to cancel the 34-year-old registration for Taco John’s “Taco Tuesday” trademark.
The petition read more like a media release than a legal document.
“Taco Bell believes that tacos, just like the joy they bring, belong to everyone on any day,” the document opines. “Ergo, ‘Taco Tuesday’ should belong to everyone. Taco Bell believes ‘Taco Tuesday’ is critical to everyone’s Tuesday. To deprive anyone of saying ‘Taco Tuesday’ — be it Taco Bell or anyone who provides tacos to the world — is like depriving the world of sunshine itself.”
And so on — and on and on — for six pages.
Westrum told Cowboy State Daily at the time that what’s really behind Taco Bell’s populist campaign is a much larger competitor seeking to muscle out the little guy.
“They just want to put millions of dollars of advertising behind it to appropriate it as their own,” he said. “And we just don’t think this is right for our customers, and for our franchisees, who have been enjoying Taco Tuesday for 34 years.”
Trademarks Don’t Mean Regular People Can’t Taco Tuesday
Another point, however, that’s important to make is that trademarks aren’t really intended to prohibit regular people using the phrase in everyday situations like having a taco night with family.
The trademark comes into play for restaurants or other entities that are trying to sell tacos. Such entities may not use the trademarked slogan to sell their tacos without permission, even if the intent is to raise money for charity.
Regular people don’t need permission to invite friends over for Taco Tuesday, or Taco Tuesnight, if they prefer.
“There are a number of marketing lines that have become a part of American lexicon over the years,” Westrum said. “Think ‘Just do it,’ ‘I’m loving it,’ ‘Where’s the beef?’ And yet those companies aren’t being asked to give up those marks, you know. So why us, why now?”
Popularity Can Be Problematic For Trademarks
Popularity of the phrase, however, can present problems for trademarks. The list is long of highly popular products that lost their trademarks when they could no longer be defended. Think aspirin, elevator, thermos, hacky sack and wine cooler. Even Apple’s “app” store was once a trademark.
The legal term for this is “genericide.”
Westrum said he believes Taco John’s trademark is still valid. And, thanks to all the publicity, dramatically more people have been learning about the brand’s story, even in states where there isn’t yet a Taco John’s.
He believes that this will help the chain expand its branches to new territory.
“This story has taken on a life of its own,” Westrum said. “And we’re at the center of it. And, you know, we’re proud to be the home of Taco Tuesday since 1989. And the world is noticing, so it’s been a lot of fun and we hope that continues.”