American Honda Motor Co. and its advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates, are being sued by environmental group Save the Earth Foundation for an alleged trademark violation.
The San Francisco-based group alleges that Honda used its "Save the Earth" trademark without permission in a recent advertising campaign for the Honda Civic. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks to recover Honda's profits from the ad campaign and to stop future use by Honda of the trademark.
Honda's use of the "Save the Earth" trademark in the commercial is likely to confuse the public into thinking that the foundation sponsored or approved the Civic, states that the complaint, filed Dec. 23 in U.S. District Court for the northern district of California. Many instances of actual confusion have been reported to the plaintiffs since the Civic commercials began airing, the complaint states.
"In an era when green marketing is becoming more and more important, it is essential that corporations and their ad agencies not mislead the public by creating a false impression that they are endorsed by legitimate environmental groups, when in fact they are not," Save the Earth Foundation President Neal Pargman told Marketing Daily.
Pargman has been selling merchandise bearing the Save the Earth trademark since 1972 and holds a U.S.-registered trademark. Honda's commercial, showing several uses of the Save the Earth trademark, used the foundation's trademark without permission. The Torrance, Calif.-based automaker has ignored cease-and-desist letters from the foundation, Pargman added.
As for Honda, a spokesperson says the lawsuit is without merit. "American Honda merely depicted the commonly used expression 'save the earth' in our Civic ad to communicate the concern for the environment felt by many people who purchase fuel efficient and low emission vehicles.
"American Honda believes that everyone, and not just the plaintiff, should have the right to remind people to do their part to help "save the earth."
The TV spot features a man wearing a "Save the Earth" T-shirt getting out of his vintage Civic CCC. The spot then shows him and the Honda Civic morphing through time while he continues to wear the same T-shirt.
Soon after the TV spot began to air, the foundation received telephone calls and other contacts from individuals who thought that the foundation had entered into a partnership or association with Honda, the complaint states.
Some of the correspondence noted that the Honda Civic got better mileage in the 1970s -- when the T-shirts were first used -- than they do now, thus tarnishing plaintiffs' reputation among those who thought plaintiffs were "selling out" to a corporation cynically advertising goods that did not deliver what they promised, the complaint states.
The foundation is asking for "profits on the Honda Civic line of products, together with plaintiffs' damages, trebled, costs of the action, and reasonable attorneys' Fees," states the complaint, although "no amount of money damages can adequately compensate plaintiffs if they lose the ability to control the use of their mark, or suffers damage to their reputation and goodwill through the false and unauthorized use of the "Save the Earth" mark."