A company’s value is often tied to the message it portrays to customers. But what happens when other companies try to take advantage of your brand?
Take the Philadelphia Eagles, for instance. The American football team wants to exclusively own the phrase: "Philly Special.” That was the trick play that helped them win the Super Bowl, and the Philly Special is, by far, the most talked-about play of the Super Bowl.
Watch the play here:
It is a gutsy move. In football-speak, it is a direct-snap reverse pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who usually throws the ball. But the coach gives the OK, and Foles tells his teammates the plan in the huddle.
The team lines up, Foles runs up the field. Tight end Trey Burton throws the football, and Foles catches it in the end zone for a touchdown.
"Play of the century"
Now, the phrase, ‘Philly Special,’ has turned into a city-wide phenomena. Bakeries are making Philly Special pastries. Some people are getting the words or even a sketch of the play tattooed on themselves.
And stores, like Ashley Peel's Philadelphia Independents, cannot keep enough Philly Special T-shirts in stock.
“It’s the 'Nick Foles play of the century,' as I’m dubbing it from the Super Bowl,” Peel said. “It has a layout of the [specifics] from the play. We just got it in and we’re almost already sold out of it. It’s definitely moving well.”
It’s moving well, even as several entrepreneurs are competing to be awarded a trademark — in other words, exclusive rights — to the phrase. Many of the businesses filed their own trademark applications ahead of the Eagles.
“I do have a client that’s applied for the mark, ‘Philly Special,’” said Philadelphia-based lawyer Nancy Rubner Frandsen.
She filed a trademark application on behalf of a company called Whalehead Associates. She can’t comment too much about the application without violating attorney-client privilege, but admits the phrase goes beyond a football play.
“Obviously it brings everyone together, it was our Super Bowl championship that brought it all about,” she said. “It’s got the term ‘Philly’ in it — from the trademark standpoint, it would be deemed to be descriptive. But then you combine it with the term, ‘Special,’ and it could make a very unique trademark."
Some of the other businesses that want to trademark the term include a sandwich maker, a gift shop manufacturer ... and the Philadelphia Eagles. The team was actually the last to file a trademark application. Even so, experts say, it’s likely the rights will be awarded to the Eagles.
“This particular term, ideally, should belong to the Eagles,” said Dr. Jay Sinha, an associate marketing professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.
He added the phenomenon around ‘Philly Special’ is not the first time there's been a rush to trademark a term after a big event, like the Super Bowl. And it’s even got a name: ‘newsjacking.’
“The term, newsjacking, means where a company rides or takes advantage of some event happening in current affairs and uses it for their own commercial purposes, especially for marketing in branding,” Sinha said.
For example, think of famous movie lines, like: 'May the force be with you,' from "Stars Wars." When sequels are released, other companies often try to take advantage of the film's popularity for marketing purposes, like an ice cream shop that posts a sign reading, 'May the swirl be with you.’
“If there’s anything which is relevant in popular culture as well as the news, companies like to ride on it,” Sinah said.
In this case, it likely will be several months before the U.S. Patent Office announces who will be awarded the rights to the now famous phrase. By then, though, another Super Bowl will be approaching and the excitement of the Philly Special could be fading.