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August 4, 2010
Ticked Over Tacos on Tuesdays
Not even trademarks necessarily hold in this new era of social media. Witness Taco John's, a Wyoming firm that has had the phrase "Taco Tuesday" trademarked since 1989. When Taco John's asked its lawyers to defend the trademark against the Iguana Mexican Grill in Oklahoma City, it set off a storm of social media reaction.

"Taco Tuesdays" are going to continue at the Iguana, though under another name, but everyone will know that Tuesday is the day for tacos there, regardless of a legal volley. Whether Taco John's will ever be welcome in Oklahoma (it's not there yet) is a question. That's what happens when your attorneys fire off a "cease and desist" letter, and the recipient, in this case the Iguana grill, has a media frolic with it.

"They have a nationwide trademark," says Ryan Parrott, executive chef at the Iguana, "We had considered trying to fight them or work an agreement with them since they're not in Oklahoma. But we decided to stop using it and change the name. But we won't stop the event."

The Iguana is asking fans on Twitter and Facebook to help come up with a new name for the promotion on Tuesdays, a slow night in the restaurant industry. Some fans are angrily insisting they'll call it "Taco Tuesday" anyway.

"Obviously I don't have any control over what anybody says or thinks," Parrott said. "If they want to call it 'Taco Tuesday,' they can. I just can't."

Rob Crissinger, an Oklahoma City PR consultant, did a Google search on "Taco Tuesday" and found that the term is in pretty general use anyway. Taco John's may well have started something that, because it's a natural in social terms, can't really be bounded by a trademark. Now the social medial reaction in Oklahoma City is making that clear.

Crissinger suggests that Taco John's maybe should simply have called the Iguana and asked them to quit using the term. But its exclusive grip on "Taco Tuesdays" probably is doomed anyway. 

Even so, a Taco John's spokeswoman, Renee Middleton, says "Taco Tuesday is hugely important to us. We have owned the trademark since 1989. It's a brand icon for us. It's mentioned in conjunction with Taco John's -- that and potato ole's."

Gee, isn't it rough to get caught up in the winds of media change? Your own trademarked creation might be swept away. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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