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The "slovenly" faux-Best Buy employee is pictured in Newegg's latest commercial; a real Best Buy employee is pictured in a separate image. Can you tell which is which?  (Source: M-Live, YouTube)

Best Buy is also upset about Newegg's new "Geek On" Logo, which it says violates its Geek Squad-related trademarks.
Commercial depicts clueless blue-shirted employee struggling to explain products to customers

Is it illegal to show a video of a blue polo-wearing employee in a computer store?  Best Buy's legal staff appear to think so.

I. Best Buy Upset About "Slovenly", "Uninformed" Employee Depiction

They sent a legal threat to City of Industry, California-based online retailer Newegg.com for a new commercial that found its way onto TV and on YouTube, the world's most used video sharing site.  Best Buy writes:
We... recently learned that Newegg is running a commercial on television and YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYk0dQrz3uc&feature=youtu.be" rel="nofollow) depicting a blue-shirted salesperson in a store with a similar layout/color scheme to a Best Buy store, so as to represent a Best Buy employee.  The fake Best Buy employee is depicted as slovenly and uninformed about computer products, in contrast to your employees who are portrayed as "experts."

Your... negative portrayal of our employees violates trademark rights and misleads customers about our services, in violation of federal and state law.  While we welcome fair competition, we cannot tolerate unfair competition that disparages our employess, confuses our customers and damages our valuable trademarks and goodwill associated with those marks.  We take great pride in our employees and the high quality of customer service they offer and find your company's focus on our employees in this advertising campaign particularly offensive.  We expect that you would be equally offended if the tables were turned and a competitor launched an advertising campaign portraying your employees as slovenly and uninformed.
To be fair, the employee pictured doesn't appear particularly "slovenly" -- a trip to your local Best Buy store will reveal he in fact is pretty much the norm -- the store is home to the world's most well-coiffed employees in our experience.

In reality, Best Buy may be getting a little uncomfortable as the ad hits a bit too close to home.  One YouTube commenter (uprated 125 times) remarks:
Sadly, this IS what best buy is.

There's a reason knowledgeable people don't shop at best buy, and poor consumers get ripped off without even knowing it.
Another comments, "oh man this commercial is giving best buy employees? too much credit."

The encounter depicted is in line with our staff's personal interactions with Best Buy sales staff across the country, as well.  For example, when shopping for a laptop in 2008, floor sales staff at two separate local Best Buy stores were unable to properly assess laptop graphics performance and were unaware of current mobile graphics card offerings.  

In both cases it took several employees in the computer department to find one that could compared and contrast offered processors in a technically sound manner.  And in both cases, the employees suggested that the DailyTech staffer "apply for the Geek Squad" as they "seem to know a lot about computers."

Of course, these experiences are limited, but based on feedback on YouTube and Facebook it seems we're not the only ones who have encountered this.

The broader question is whether depicting a company in an unfavorable manner -- without using specific logos or brand names -- is illegal.  In this regard Best Buy's legal chances seem poor, given that Verizon Communications, Inc.'s (VZ) successfully defended in court its right to air far more flagrant commercials attacking AT&T, Inc. (T); and the fact that Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTE) T-Mobile USA and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) have both [1][2] aired similar commercials attacking their competitors' products or brands by name.

II. Logo Abuse?

Best Buy also alleges that Newegg.com is abusing its trademarks pertaining to the Geek Squad -- namely, the use of the colors black and/or orange in relation to the terms "geek" or a power button logo.

Newegg.com has recently started a new services campaign [GIF] dubbed "Geek On", which shows an orange power button as the 'O' in "ON", next to black or white "GEEK" text (depending on the color of the backdrop).  The campaign pitches Newegg.com support and sales, and the company has been distributing promotional T-shirts as a part of the campaign.

Best Buy's lawyers write:
We recently learn that Newegg is using a stylized GEEK ON design in orange-and-black font with the "O" in "ON" depicted as a power button (the "Geek on Logo") with a new marketing campaign for Newegg's consumer electronics retail services.  We understand Newegg is using this design on its website, its Facebook site, and in connection with promotional items for Newegg's services such as t-shirts.  An illustrative use of the Geek On Logo is attached as Exhibit B.

Given Best Buy's long-standing prior use of the GEEK SQUAD mark, Geek Squad Trade Dress, and Tie and Power Button Design, Best Buy is concerned that Newegg's use of the Geek On Logo is likely to create confusion among consumers and to dilute the distinctive quality of the GEEK SQUAD mark in violation of Best Buy's trademark rights.  Best Buy is particularly concerned because the Geek On Logo features the GEEK-component of Best Buy's GEEK SQUAD mark, is depicted in the same orange-and-black color scheme as Best Buy's Geek Squad Trade Dress, features a power button design that is very similar to the Geek Squad Tie and Power Button Design, and is used to promote Newegg's competing consumer electronics retail services.
Whether anyone would actually "confuse" Best Buy and Newegg, is debatable, but Best Buy may have a bit more of a leg to stand on here.  Apple has in the past brought several similar lawsuits claiming violation of its logo [1][2][3].  Similarly, George Lucas has successfully brought several Star Wars related trademark lawsuits against small firms [1][2].

In other words, regardless of whether its fair or not, legal precedent has shown that marginally related logos and text can be grounds for a successful court case by the trademark originator against the late adopter.

III. What's Next?

Newegg.com does not appear to be backing down from either campaign and defiantly posted Best Buy's letter on its Facebook page.

A cease and desist letter is a legal tactic in which one party sends the other a letter formally warning them not to repeat certain actions like stalking.  If they violate the terms, they can face criminal and civil penalties under U.S. law.


Typically, a cease and desist letter is followed by a lawsuit if the addressed party does not comply.  It's now just a waiting game to see if Best Buy backs up its threats with legal muscle.

In the meantime all Best Buy's fuss is generating loads of free publicity for Newegg.com's commercial, which has already gathered 413,000+ views.

Best Buy sent a similar threat last year to a priest who used the slogan "God Squad" and drove a Volkswagen Beetle painted similar to those used by the Geek Squad.  The company does not appear to have followed up on that threat with any substantial legal action, perhaps because of the backlash that stories about the threat caused. 


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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By JasonMick (blog) on 6/10/2011 1:57:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You asked the employee to help you compare computer components "in a technically sound manner." That's pretty hard. I would write down the CPU and GPU (the two most important components in my opinion) and direct the customer to sites like Tomshardware or Anandtech in order to compare their performance, because that's what I do when I shop for myself. I'm unsure what the Best Buy employees actually do when asked.

At the time Best Buy had somewhere around 15-20 laptop models on the store floor. Several employees couldn't even point out which ones had discrete GPUs.

I could easily do this by looking @ the spec sheets/control panel. If I were working there and it was my job to sell computers I would memorize that kind of information to assist informed customers...

Likewise, the employees had no clue about the difference between mobile ATI v. NVIDIA GPUs...

Further, some of the employees couldn't even offer general comparisons between processor families from Intel (e.g. Merom v. Penryn).

Again, plenty of our readers (or Anandtech's readers) I'm sure could have offered such comparisons, albeit most of them are better paid than BB store floor employees...

The point is just that most BB store salepeople in my and some of my DT colleagues' experience are hardly qualified technical experts, and should not be represented as such.

This is relatively unsurprising given their pay grade, but I find it disingenuous for BB to attack others on the basis of its sales staff's overall "high" technical merits.


By MrTeal on 6/10/2011 2:09:52 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly. No one is really asking BB employees to be computer experts, I wouldn't go in expecting them to be able to set me up a web server, just like I wouldn't expect someone at an appliance store to give me a great cookie recipe. I would expect those home store employees to be able to explain the difference between a couple different Kitchen Aid or Cuisinart models though.

If Best Buy wants to claim that they have well trained, knowledgeable salespeople customers should expect that they at least know the important features of the products and what that implies. The customer doesn't need to know that a desktop has an i3-2100; unless they're blind they can read that on the card in front of it. If you can't explain why that is different, better or worse than a comparable Intel or AMD, you're a glorified stock boy.


By Mudhen6 on 6/11/2011 3:56:18 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Likewise, the employees had no clue about the difference between mobile ATI v. NVIDIA GPUs...


This is disproportionately difficult without actually going over various benchmarks specific to discrete mobile graphics (which are usually significantly different from their desktop versions).

Both ATI and NVIDIA use their own designations/naming schemes (which is often misleading), and with all the re-branding (Nvidia) and differing performance (application bias towards either Nvidia or ATI) it takes a lot of reading for most people to keep abreast on this stuff.

quote:
Further, some of the employees couldn't even offer general comparisons between processor families from Intel (e.g. Merom v. Penryn).


That's not exactly easy too. Intel's naming scheme isn't intuitive - e.g. without looking it up, it's impossible to know that Merom was succeeded by Penryn. Both are interchangeable, IIRC. Penryn processors exist as both T-xxxx and P-xxxx processors, and Merom processors are also designated under the T-xxxx system...and you can upgrade from a Merom T-xxxx to a Penryn T-xxxx.

Anyway, the point is that it's much easier to speak in terms of clock speeds, FSB speeds, fab process and the actual designation (P/T-xxxx) when comparing the C2D mobile processors because it's more intuitive and therefore people are more likely to be familiar with them.

I'm not defending Best Buy, but straight up asking workers the difference between Merom and Penryn processors is a question a large chunk of DT readers would not be able to answer correctly, I think.

Hell, if people who work at BestBuy even know that these codenames are associated with C2D processors, I'd already be impressed.


"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer














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