Spam Cans Slang Campaign

The makers of Spam have concluded that their trademark won't be irrevocably tarnished by the continued use of the word spam to describe unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corp. announced on its Web site that it was easing off its efforts to block use of the term spam as a synonym for unsolicited e-mail ads for everything from vitamin supplements to multilevel marketing schemes.

The company is focusing its trademark-protection efforts on persuading people to put the name Spam in all capital letters when writing about the pink luncheon meat in the familiar blue rectangular can with yellow lettering.

The new tack was quietly taken last year, said Julie Craven, a Hormel public relations official. But the lid came off last weekend, when an online news service reported that the policy was discussed at SpamCon, a convention in San Francisco on junk e-mail.

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In bowing to the forces of pop culture, Hormel acknowledges that slang terms have evolved from other brands, even a former president, without an obvious dilution of the orignial's value.

"In a Federal District Court case involving the famous trademark Star Wars owned by LucasFilms, the Court ruled that the slang term used to refer to the Strategic Defense Initiative did not weaken the trademark," Hormel's online statement said. The company pointed to other examples of famous trademarks having a different slang meaning, including Mickey Mouse to describe something as unsophisticated and Teflon to describe former President Reagan's ability to remain popular while espousing unpopular positions.

Earlier, Hormel had threatened legal action to protect its trademark. The company tried to stop spam king Sanford Wallace, once described as perhaps the most hated man on the Net because of his efforts to evade filtering mechanisms designed to block his electronic mailings, from establishing as a domain name for his ISP service.

In an interview earlier this year, author Carolyn Wyman noted that the Internet has helped Hormel bridge the divide between Spam's "early adopters" — the Depression and World War II vets who found the canned pink pork product on their extremely limited menus — and a new generation of consumers. The link was provided by Monty Python, the British comedy troupe that performed a famous sketch set in a café. A man and his wife enter and she tries, unsuccessfully, to order a meal that doesn't include Spam.

"The Monty Python skit made a new generation aware of Spam, and they thought it was funny, said Wyman, author of Spam: A Biography, a 1999 book about all things Spam. Hormel has shrewdly capitalized on the image of Spam as a "contemporary and fun" product, Wyman added.