Everyone loves a funny television commercial. Regardless of what it’s advertising, humor holds people’s attention. This is doubly true when the subject matter is of your interest. So a few years ago when Sony presented Kevin Butler as their “Vice President of Awesome” and “Director of Rumor Confirmation” among other made up titles, you were amused and enjoyed the show. It’s cool, we all were. He was the character for Sony serving as the humorous mascot for the PlayStation 3, aimed squarely at pulling in that crucial 18-35 demographic with what seems to work today – pure ridiculousness. Exchanging “booms” with gamers and even speaking at E3 2010, he blew stuff up, stole cars, and through a series of other crazy antics at least got your attention for Sony.
The thing is that Sony ad campaign was pretty high profile, and the character of Kevin Butler (actually played by an actor by the name of Jerry Lamber) became an instantly recognizable figure on TV. I’m sure you’ve all seen Lamber lately in Bridgestone’s ad campaign for their tires, donning a lab coat alongside Troy Aikman, telling a frustrated Deion Sanders to “Giddy up now, D.” On its own that’s really not that big of a deal – it’s just another actor doing a gig. But another commercial in that Bridgestone campaign featured Lamber playing Mario Kart on a Nintendo Wii, which seemed to upset Sony a little bit. Playing a competing product (especially since he was drilling Xbox and Nintendo earlier on Sony’s behalf) made Sony / SCEA do what any red-blooded American company would do in October of last year.
Not only did they sue Jerry Lamber himself, but his company – advertising film Wildcat Creek for breach of contract, as well as Bridgestone for facilitating the whole thing. You see a pretty basic clause in these sorts of agreements called a non-compete – think “thou shalt not shill for a competitor” for some pre-agreed-to period of time. So when they saw what they considered a Kevin Butler type character using the products of a direct competitor, which he could have worked on while still under that timeframe, they saw a problem. And even though Bridgestone said they weren’t breaking any rules because Lamber didn’t have a speaking part, they pulled his section of the commercial from air (I couldn’t find a video version online with him still in it, but that screengrab is still out there).
Sony’s words from the lawsuit back in October talk about how the Kevin Butler character is an iconic personality, some stuff about misappropriation of their intellectual property and even went far enough to say it would cause market confusion. Personally I don’t know about that last part but really once a lawyer gets rolling it’s tough to stop them.
Well, EuroGamer reported today that Jerry Lamber had finally settled with Sony on the lawsuit. He surrendered, admitting that his appearance playing the Wii did in fact cause market confusion with video game consumers, and that he did in fact violate his non-compete clause. The settlement? I’m not sure about any kind of dollar figure, but Lamber has agreed not to appear in any video game related commercials for a period of 2 years, unless Sony approves of it. So if you enjoyed his Kevin Butler-esque performances in the video game ad space, you’re going to have to go without until 2015. Kevin Butler is Sony property. Sony’s battle with Bridgestone on the other hand rages on in the courtroom.
Might I suggest settling this with a nice game of Mario Kart?