Tag Archives: Trade Dress

Too Good To Be True: A Trade Dress Saga

“In my mind I see a mirage on the wall. But unfortunately it’s not there at all.” Mirage, by Iron Butterfly

I don’t put much stock in mirages. They may be good plot devices for movies set in the Sahara or a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But in the real world, I’ve never come close to experiencing the confluence of dehydration and desperation thought to produce the hallucinatory visions depicted in film and in literature.

Then came Covid-19 and sheltering in place. Within a few short days, things shifted from well-stocked supermarket shelves to the “new normal” where many staples have been in short supply. Not wanting the cupboard to go bare, we found an organic ranch in California that still had plenty of beef, lamb, and pork and would ship to our door.

I’ve long believed the adage “never shop for groceries on an empty stomach.” I’m here to report that the advice holds doubly true when ordering meat from the Internet. With a few clicks of the mouse, we had purchased approximately an entire side o’beef, or so it seemed from the price tag.

A few days later, UPS delivered a heavy box market “PERISHABLE, OPEN IMMEDIATELY.” After puzzling over what might be inside, it dawned on me that we now HAVE THE MEAT! I found the nearest sharp object and tore open the box. Reaching inside, I began to remove not the prime-aged cuts I’d been craving, but plastic white tubes with red lettering–one after the other, like circus clowns emerging from a tiny car.

This is where the mirage theme comes in. My mind’s eye saw the white and red tubes not for what they were–15 one pound packages of ground beef that rounded out our order. I saw what I wished them to be–tantalizing cylinders of Taylor Pork Roll (pictured above), a rare and unusual Spam-like meat product that comes from only one place on the planet–Trenton, New Jersey, my hometown. I had practically been weaned on the savory blend of pork and spices that Trentonians traditionally grilled or fried, topped with American cheese, and served on a fresh, crust Kaiser roll with mustard.

For an instant, I was thrilled. Then doubt began to seep in. Why would a premium organic beef purveyor have commingled 15 Taylor Pork Roll rolls among the T-bones, filets, and sirloins? The rock-frozen pork roll may be cheap, but not cheaper than dry ice!

But my initial belief that I’d received a motherload of the very pork roll brand my mother once served-up was no mirage. It was a by-product of the facet of trademarks called “trade dress.” You see, more than words and logos can function as a brand. Trademark protection also can extend to the appearance of packaging itself–the combination of colors, shape, and overall “look and feel” that can identify a product’s source as strongly as its name. Prime examples include the COCA COLA bottle and the Cracker Jack Box. In most cases, companies must earn trademark protection for their product packaging through five years or more of sales and advertising. They must prove what’s known as “secondary meaning,” which means that the trade dress has acquired brand significance among relevant consumers.

The Taylor Pork Roll package has all the hallmarks of protecible trade dress. The company has been selling its product in the same white and red packaging for decades while earning a devoted fan base of New Jerseyans that have migrated across the land and globe.

Considering the striking similarity between the Taylor trade dress and the ground beef now loaded into every nook and cranny of our freezer, my mirage moment is both understandable and forgivable. I’m sure I’ll be enjoying these meal-size packets of quality ground beef for weeks to come, and hopefully long after sheltering-in-place gives way to barbecuing with friends and family. And I’m equally sure that after shoppers pillage the supermarket shelves of dairy, groceries, and all other manner of comestibles, there’ll probably still be a few packages of pork roll left. And every time I take a package of that ground beef out of the freezer to thaw, I’ll smile to myself and think of the white and red Taylor Pork Roll trade dress.

Quote of the Day: “Adversity is a mirage. People, situations, and relationships sometimes change for the worst but inevitably clear a path for far better replacements. The continued journey will always find bliss.”
― Carl Henegan

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Don Draper Sees Orange: Ho Jo’s On Mad Men

“Said Simple Simon to the pie man, let me taste your wares.”  Nursery Rhyme

Howard Johnson’s had it good.  In the 50’s and 60’s, when Americans hit the road, the place they likely stopped was a Ho Jo. Before McDonald’s, Burger King, and later Starbucks made quick, dependable, consistency the norm in highway dining, motorists could count on Howard Johnson’s to deliver quality food at affordable prices.

Indeed, time was that if your stomach grumbled as you rumbled  down the turnpikes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Ohio, your only choice was  Ho Jo’s.  Still, travellers came to crave Ho Jo’s signature fried clam strips and its famous 28 flavors of ice cream.

A trip to Howard Johnson’s was an event.  So much so that the writers of TV’s Emmy magnet, Mad Men, worked Ho Jo’s into this year’s story arc, with  head Mad Man Don Draper leaping  at the chance for a long weekend with his bride at an upstate Ho Jo restaurant/motor lodge.

The chain’s signature look– the orange steepled roof–was an architectural icon that stood out and helped attract patrons.  No surprise that Ho Jo’s roof design earned one of the first Federal trademark registrations for the appearance of a building.

As a boy on trips from central New Jersey to Manhattan, I’d delight when my dad would break up the interminable hour and a half trip with a stop at Howard’s, which inevitably included a plump hot dog on a split white bread bun.  Later, when we moved to the ‘burbs, I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I discovered a Howard Johnson’s restaurant just blocks from our new split-level.  That Ho Jo commanded a corner on Route 1, staring down the dilapidated cabins of the Sleepy Hollow Motel across the way, both holdovers from the pre–I 95 era, when a trip through Jersey to points south entailed traffic lights, jug-handles for left turns, and Howard Johnson’s.

So what happened to Ho Jo?  Tastes changed.  On Mad Men, Draper’s idyllic weekend escape unravels when the insouciant Mrs. Draper-the-second rejects a heaping dish of neon orange sherbet that Don eagerly wants her to enjoy.   To Draper, a child of the Depression reared in rural economic and emotional poverty, the Day-Glo Ho Jo orange meant progress.  To his young, sophisticated wife, it  was garish, passe.  In the late ’60s, there was, to quote Buffalo Springfield, “something happening here,” and that “something” in the turbulent Vietnam era didn’t include Howard Johnson’s.

Howard Johnson’s gradually faded away, the orange roofs supplanted by Golden Arches and barrista bars.  As of last year, only three Ho Jo restaurants remained.  Two are in upstate New York.  Are any of today’s Mad Men chomping at the bit to escape their Madison Avenue pressure-cookers for a weekend of clam strips and orange sherbet?  We can dream, can’t we?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The most important thing in life is style. . . . It is style that gives content the capacity to absorb us to move us it is style that makes us care.”  ―  Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction. 

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