behemoth food conglomerate Kellogg Company is fiercely protective
of its Toucan Sam character, the spokes-bird for the popular Froot
Loops cereal. Kellogg has aggressively gone after many companies
using (or attempting to use) toucans in their logosbut it
may wish it had left the toucan in the Maya Archaeology Initiative's
Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI), based in San Ramon, California,
is a project of the World Free Press Institute (WFPI), a non-profit
committed to defending free expression and challenging the repression
of cultural heritages. In June 2010, WFPI submitted a trademark
application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the MAI
logo, a side view of a toucan with a Maya temple in the background,
both encircled by yellow/green light. It was published for oppositionprinted
in a public forum so that anyone who feels they have a legal claim
to that imagery can file an objectionon March 15, 2011.
July 19, 2011, WFPI received a letter from Kellogg North America
Company stating that it had filed a notice of opposition for the
logo image. In the letter, Kellogg essentially asserted that their
use of a toucan infringes on Kellogg's trademarked Toucan Sam
character, games and other promotional goods and services. Kellogg
said it was specifically concerned with the use of the logo on clothing
items, including T-shirts and caps, MAI offers as gifts to donors.
It also objected to the Mayan imagery in the logo, stating that
Toucan Sam is often depicted in a similar setting, and said the
"IDigMaya.com" printed on the MAI items calls to mind
another Kellogg's character, the Dig 'Em Frog. "We
are concerned about both consumer confusion and a dilution of our
strong equity in these marks," Kellogg Corporate Counsel David
Herdman wrote in the letter.
essentially allege that they own trademark rights to all use of
toucans anywhere in the world," says Clay Haswell, chairman
and co-founder of WFPI. "The fact is, they don't. They
have tried to make that claim previously in federal court."
Kellogg has opposed the toucan trademarks of several organizations,
including Toucan Golf, which it took to court. In 2003, the U.S.
Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, rejected the cereal giant's
claims and allowed Toucan Golf to keep its name and logo.
differences between the two logos under dispute here are as stark
as the differences between the two organizations. Kellogg's
toucan is cartoonish and the MAI's is a realistic representation
of the colorfully billed bird that is indigenous to Central America
and is a common motif in Mayan symbolism. Kellogg markets sugary
breakfast food to children for profit and MAI educates Guatemalan
children on Mayan history and culture and works to protect Guatemala's
cultural, historical and natural resources.
and the MAI are currently in negotiations. Kris Charles, a spokesperson
for Kellogg Company, said via e-mail on August 26 that it has reached
out to the MAI to identify a solution so that it can continue using
the logo while still protecting its Toucan Sam. "We're
continuing these conversations and hope to find an approach that
will work for both organizations."
they resolve this peacefully or not, there is no erasing some of
the bad press this spat has generated for Kellogg over the past
few weeks. Haswell, who worked for the Associated Press for 18 years,
has been keeping a tally of the coverage, which has been almost
universally mocking of Kellogg. As of the last week in August, he
said the story had been picked up by some 2,000 websites in 60 countries.
He says a Detroit News poll showed that 96 percent of its readers
sided with MAI.
started out as a P.R. headache for Kellogg has now morphed into
something more troublesome. After receiving that first letter from
Kellogg, Haswell said some of his colleagues went to the Froot Loops'
website to figure out what the company objected to. There they found
a game in the Kellogg's Adventure series, which supposedly
puts kids in a Mayan setting, and the only character of color is
the villain, an evil witchdoctor who cackles and steals. "Suddenly,
[this fight] became a little bit more important to us than protecting
our trademark," he says.
can get emotional talking about the atrocities committed against
the Mayan peopleonce one of the Americas' most sophisticated
civilizationsfirst by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s
and then by the Guatemalan government during a decades-long civil
war in the 1960s. Haswell says of the Froot Loops game, "It
is just so insensitive. You scratch your head and wonder how people
can be that dumb."
Christina Gish Hill, a professor with the Department of Anthropology
and American Indian Studies at Iowa State University, thinks Kellogg's
stance on the toucan logo is extreme and laughs at the suggestion
that Kelloggor any other entitycould own the rights
to representations of the toucan. But the Froot Loops witchdoctor
game was not at all funny to her. "It is very shocking that
a company as prominent and far-reaching as Kellogg would create
imagery that is just so blatantly stereotyped and offensive,"
sees parallels with the American Indian mascot issue, something
she has been closely following. With both, young people are exposed
to simplified stereotypes of Native people. She says this is particularly
damaging to Native children. "These stereotypesthese
representationsthey are hurtful. They are embarrassing. Imagine
a Mayan child going on to that website to play that game, how painful
it might be for that child to see that."
promptly got that message. "As a company long committed to
diversity and inclusion and responsible marketing," Charles
wrote in an e-mail, "Kellogg takes this concern very seriously."
It has removed the game from its website.
that one victory for the little guys.