Appearing in over 80 television shows and films over his 23-year comedic acting career, it’s safe to say that audiences will laugh at Jerry Lambert just about anywhere. Gamers became aware of this axiom when Lambert appeared in 2010 as the incomparable Kevin Butler, Sony’s VP of, well, akin to the marketing slogan he introduced, pretty much everything.
At the same time, though, Lambert continued his acting elsewhere, and was sighted most recently playing the Nintendo Wii in a commercial for Bridgestone Tires and their “Game On” promotion. The commercial, which went viral after its September 4 release, was seen by many as a minor controversy – here was Kevin Butler gushing over Mario Kart Wii – but nothing that couldn’t be resolved with a good sense of humor. Too bad Sony wasn’t laughing.
Compiling court documents and legal filings, users on the NeoGAF forums have uncovered a lawsuit levied by SCEA against Bridgestone Tires and Wildcat Creek, the ad agency who produced commercials for the Game On campaign.
Filing the suit on September 11 (which explains the commercial’s vacancy on the Internet now; Bridgestone pulled the add days later), Sony is suing on the grounds of trademark infringement: Kevin Butler is their intellectual property, and in the company’s eyes Jerry Lambert, playing video games, even in a lab jacket and selling tires, creates an irrefutable connotation of the fictional PlayStation executive.
The second filing intimates that on September 26, a lawyer representing Sony called the Northern District Court of California, who’s hearing the case, stating that the parties involved had reached or were close to a resolution. An announcement on whether or not the case continues is due for October 12.
Right now all that publicly exists of the infamous commercial is a few screen grabs, animated GIFs, and an edited, sans-Kevin Butler commercial on Youtube. Bridgestone clearly went to great lengths to whitewash Lambert from the Game On campaign, and the chain of events here suggests they’re eager to settle things outside of court.
It’s also important to note that Sony isn’t suing Lambert directly. At first, the case might read like the company trying to keep a leash on its dynamite spokesperson – perhaps he signed a non-compete clause and playing Mario Kart hit too close to home. But Lambert’s work for Sony is as an actor; he’s their official spokesperson in the same sense he’s their family activities director: fictionally. Their might be a disagreement now over intellectual properties and the doppelganging of Kevin Butler, but we wouldn’t be surprised if, sometime soon, Sony calls their marketing messiah back into action.
Ranters, Sony seems positioned to win their case against Bridgestone and Wildcat Creek, even if it’s settled out of court. But should they have been so concerned in the first place?
[UPDATE] Sony has released a statement to Venture Beat explaining their litigation:
“Sony Computer Entertainment America filed a lawsuit against Bridgestone and Wildcat Creek, Inc. on September 11. The claims are based on violations of the Lanham Act, misappropriation, breach of contract and tortious interference with a contractual relationship. We invested significant resources in bringing the Kevin Butler character to life and he’s become an iconic personality directly associated with PlayStation products over the years. Use of the Kevin Butler character to sell products other than those from PlayStation misappropriates Sony’s intellectual property, creates confusion in the market, and causes damage to Sony.”
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