The founder of Chick-Fil-A, S. Truett Cathy, passed away on Monday at the age of 93. Cathy started selling his famous chicken sandwiches in 1961. By 2013, Chick-Fil-A's sales had grown to $5 billion even though it only operates six days a week. When asked about his policy of closing on Sundays, Cathy famously replied, "If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant, then we needed to be in some other line of work."
My introduction to Chick-Fil-A came relatively late in life. There were no Chick-Fil-A's in Baltimore when I was growing up. It was not until I started road tripping with my wife from our home in Nashville to her parents' house in Florida that my culinary eyes were opened to the wonders of Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets and waffle fries. Now we plan all of our road trips around stops at Chick-Fil-A. And thanks to the handy trip planner on the the Chick-Fil-A website, I know the locations of all 48 stores between our house in Nashville and my in-laws in Florida.
Even if you've never been to Chick-Fil-A, you've most likely encountered its clever use of cows in its advertisements. The "Cow Campaign" was developed by Chick-Fil-A with its ad agency, Dallas-based Richards Group. The campaign launched in 1995 with the adoption of the "Eat mor chikin" slogan. The slogan was first used on billboards that had been "commandeered" by cows:
The cows next started appearing on TV:
To protect their cows, Chick-Fil-A has obtained a number of federal trademark registrations, including EAT MOR CHIKIN, U.S. Reg. No. 2,010,233, for restaurant services. Chick-Fil-A also owns U.S. Reg. No. 2,463,183, U.S. Reg. No. 2,468,762, and U.S. Reg. No. 2,538,070 for restaurant services in connection with these cow designs:
Chick-Fil-A has not been shy about enforcing its intellectual property rights. It has successfully protested at least 30 instances of the "eat more" phrase, saying that the use would cause confusion, dilute the distinctiveness of their intellectual property, and diminish its value (source). Recently, Chick-Fil-A has been in the news for demanding that Vermont artist Bo Muller-Moore cease printing t-shirts reading "Eat More Kale". Fellow blogger Steve Baird of the DuetsBlog noted earlier this week that Bo Muller-Moore's trademark application for "Eat More Kale" was approved for publication, which makes a showdown at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office likely.
Setting aside the controversy over "Eat More Kale", Chick-Fil-A has been very creative about finding ways to build on the success of its cow "branding" (pun intended). One of my favorites was giving away Chick-Fil-A branded "Click Clack Moo" books with its Kid's Meal. For the uninitiated, this bestselling series by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin chronicles the hapless Farmer Brown's attempts to keep his farm animals in line (particularly his mischievous duck). My three-year-old's copy of "Giggle, Giggle, Quack" is well-worn:
These tie-ins are an excellent way for Chick-Fil-A to build its brand with minimal investment and little risk. Certainly, it has made my family more loyal to the brand. I'm already looking forward to our next road trip. I can almost taste the chicken nuggets and waffle fries.
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