Advertising Law

Best Buy Not Amused by Competitor's Ad, Sends Cease-and-Desist Letter

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Newegg commercial.

Nearly 600,000 YouTube viewers to date have enjoyed an amusing new 30-second commercial by Newegg, the online consumer electronics retailer.

In the commercial, shot from the vantage point of a potential customer, a clueless teenage salesman in a blue shirt at a big box store tries to explain the difference between two laptops.

“Uhh … Ahem… Uhh, I don’t really …” is all he can muster before the camera cuts away to the company’s sales pitch: “Take it from a geek.”

But Best Buy, the consumer electronics giant, isn’t laughing. Last month, its lawyers sent a letter to Newegg demanding that it stop showing that particular commercial and any other advertising purporting to show Best Buy employees in a disparaging way, the New York Times reports.

Best Buy, whose employees wear similarly colored shirts, said the salesman in the commercial was depicted as “being slovenly and uninformed” about computer products. It also demanded that Newegg drop its “Geek On” marketing theme because it encroaches on Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” trademark.

Newegg ignored the demand, though it did add a disclaimer saying the commercial was a “work of fiction.” It also posted a copy of the cease-and-desist letter on its Facebook page.

Experts say Best Buy is on shaky legal ground. Parodies that take aim at competitors have long been upheld by the courts as a legally protected form of free expression as long as there is no chance that viewers will mistake the parody for the real thing.

“Best Buy is in a dilemma,” Leslie J. Lott, a lawyer in Coral Gables, Fla., told the New York Times. “If the awful customer service that is portrayed in the Newegg commercial is accurate, there’s no parody. So it would be in a good legal position but in a horrible position from a public relations perspective. If, on the other hand, Best Buy’s position is that their customer service is actually excellent, then that strengthens Newegg’s parody defense.”

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