Brands rarely get the OK to trademark a word that's descriptive rather than proprietary. But Campbell Soup Co. has pulled it off: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office office has approved the company's right to trademark the word "chunky," thanks to decades of pop-culture references cited in its application.
As a result, Campbell's Chunky packaging will start to include the ® next to the word.
In its submission, Campbell pointed out that it has spent more than $1 billion in advertising for soup products under the Chunky name since 1988, including its sponsorship of the NFL, which has been in place for more than 20 years. Sales of Campbell's Chunky exceeded $450 million annually from 2004 through 2017, it also noted. Other details included results from an online survey finding strong consumer association for the words "chunky" and "soup."
But it's the inclusion of various non-corporate references that makes Chunky's filing unique.
The files point out how Chunky has been parodied on shows including "Saturday Night Live," which ran skits riffing on Donovan McNabb and his mom, Wilma McNabb, who appeared in actual Chunky commercials. The company also pointed out spoofs from "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy," and even included an image from a 2016 episode of "The Daily Show" in which Trevor Noah mocked the story Ted Cruz's wife told about him buying 100 cans of Chunky soup after their honeymoon. The submission was so thorough it included lines from novels and lyrics from artists including Ghostface Killah ("Chunky and I ain't talking chicken noodle soup.").
"The numbers that they have on this are very significant," says trademark attorney Josh Gerben, principal at Gerben Law Firm. "They certainly spent a lot of time and money to pull all of this together."
Still, he finds Campbell's argument, well, thin. He worries the company will go after smaller soup makers that use the word "chunky" to describe a style of soup, a word that's relatively common in online recipes and other forums. "I do not the think the government should have granted the registration, given how much use of the word 'chunky' there is in the soup business outside Campbell's," says Gerben.