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There are two ways you can look at a popular Facebook app like Scrabulous, which is clearly an online version of Scrabble, one of the most popular board games of all time (at least for anyone with a cottage where it sometimes rains and there is no television). One is to see it as a rip-off of a company’s trademarked property — which is clearly the way that Hasbro and Mattel see it, since they have reportedly sent legal letters to Facebook asking them to remove the app.

The other way to see to see it, of course, is as a tribute to the popularity of Scrabble, and a kind of viral marketing for the actual game. There are dozens of (admittedly anecdotal) stories of people going out and buying Scrabble games to continue their online addiction offline. How many of those people would have bought a Scrabble game before Scrabulous came along? A tiny number, at best. So why not just buy the app from the developers for a couple of hundred grand and call it a day?

From a legal perspective, Hasbro and Mattel are no doubt totally within their rights to have the app removed, or to sue, or do whatever they wish to protect their trademark. But from a marketing perspective I think they are missing the point. It reminds me of Coca-Cola’s initial reaction to the Eepybird video with the Coke and the Mentos — they said they were considering legal action, because “that’s not how we want consumers to interact with our brand.” Morons.

Eventually someone at Coca-Cola saw the light, thank God, and realized that how people interact with your brand is pretty much up to them, not you. If you’re smart, you will be glad they are interacting with it at all, and you will find a way to capitalize on it. I think another way to look at Scrabulous is as the online version of a tribute band, or like the fansites that specialize in fiction based on Star Trek or Star Wars — some companies see that as trademark infringement, others see it as an opportunity.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

40 Responses to “Hasbro and Mattel: Dumb, dumb, dumb”
  1. Is it a requirement for large corporations to have no common sense about how they deal with their customers? Hasbro/Mattel are not the first nor will they be the last to handle a situation with such awkwardness.

    It's a sad state of affairs that this is commonplace and good customer service seems shocking.

  2. Wouldn't it be deliciously ironic if Hasbro/Mattel got Facebook to remove the application and then tried to create their own and got sued by the developers of Scrabulous? What a sad situation.

  3. Notice this comes after the 60 Minutes piece on Facebook where Mark Zukerburg openly admitted to playing Scableicious with his Grandparents not a sensible move by a CEO in this era of copyright infringement .

  4. oh gosh – here we go again – mathew bubalah – let's get a grip :)

    if they bought the app they would be saying “sure break the law, we will buy you anyway”

    if they were smart, they would already be working on a legit version of scrabble on facebook, get the app removed because of the legal issues, inject their own version. done.

  5. I think they had to do something, but they've chosen the wrong thing. It would have been far better to grant a limited-term license in return for some equity in the company and renaming it “Scrabble”. Silly Hasbro/Mattel.

  6. […] Mathew Ingram has already said this but I’ll say it again: Mattel and Hasbro are making a mistake by giving in to the knee-jerk impulse to think “infringement!” and calling in the legal team. All that will do is generate ill will towards them. A far more profitable approach would be for them to simply buy the application from its creators — which they could easily do for a few hundred thousand dollars, mere pin money to them — and use it as a marketing tool for Scrabble as well as other games in their stable. […]

  7. I have to admit that this is one instance where I have some sympathy for Mr. Big Evil Corporation.

    It may very well be true that Scrabulous has led to higher sales of Scrabble, but on the other hand, Scrabulous and Facebook are profiting immensely through the sale of advertising on Scrabulous pages, and let's face it, it *is* a complete clone of the real Scrabble game which is copyright. I don't think that can be considered fair use.

    Hasbro/Mattel deserve a cut of those revenues, and if it takes legal papers to get it, then I think that's fair.

  8. […] Hasbro and Mattel: Dumb, dumb, dumb – – mathewingram.com/work “How many of those people would have bought a Scrabble game before Scrabulous came along? A tiny number, at best. So why not just buy the app from the developers for a couple of hundred grand and call it a day?” (tags: business law social+media marketing problems dumb) […]

  9. to use some basic logic – it'd be like a thug stealing your car and then offering to sell it back to you.

    i can't make it any clearer for you than that mathew!

  10. I'm going to take a BMW and not pay for it. My own personal tribute to BMW. Call it viral marketing. It's not like I have the money to buy a BMW, so there's no harm really because I would never have bought one in the first place.

    It's a sad state of affairs when an entity (in this case Mattel/Hasbro) are the losers for sticking up for what's right. Where's the criticism of the other side for doing the wrong thing? The mob mentality of web2.0. ..

  11. […] it comes to the Internet and marketing? I’m going to pile on along with Matthew Ingram, who comments on a boneheaded move by Hasbro and Mattel to clamp down on the Scrabulous application for […]

  12. you nailed my annoyance with your last paragraph.

    these corporate tactics are all about control/domination.

    i'm sure at some point some executives thought to themselves that they could trademark the alphabet as well.

    douchebags

  13. Sorry, I agree with the commenters here (and at TechCrunch last week when this came up). The dumb shmucks were clearly the Scrabulous guys, who knew this would happen.

    Hasbro/Mattel is within their rights (which you acknowledge), but had no other actual option. Buying the app would have signalled to others to do the same thing (by creating “Scrabbalicious”, “Scrabbtastic”, etc).

    Sure, in a perfect world they'd have been able to buy the value, buy the momentum, etc. But, in a perfect world, people wouldn't be morons and start companies with the same name, design, rules, trademark, etc. In a world where one company has already done that, Mattel/Hasbro had no choice.

    Buying them simply wasn't an option. It's not like stealing a car. But I don't see any resolution that doesn't have someone else doing what Scrabbulous did.

    Btw, as this is the first comment since you installed Disqus, let me just note that it's totally useless on a mobile device, which is where I do most of my commenting.

  14. […] Hasbro and Mattel: Dumb, dumb, dumb – – mathewingram.com/work From a legal perspective, Hasbro and Mattel are no doubt totally within their rights to have the app removed, or to sue, or do whatever they wish to protect their trademark. But from a marketing perspective I think they are missing the point. It reminds me of Coca-Cola’s initial reaction to the Eepybird video with the Coke and the Mentos — they said they were considering legal action, because “that’s not how we want consumers to interact with our brand.” Morons. […]

  15. […] Hasbro and Mattel: Dumb, dumb, dumb – – mathewingram.com/work I was going to write this, but he’s already summarised what I was thinking about the about Scrabulous legal issues. (tags: facebook marketing) […]

  16. […] people addicted to the Facebook game going out and buying real-world copies for the first time. My first reaction was to cheer for Scrabulous, and wonder why Hasbro or EA didn’t just buy the app from the […]

  17. I loved scrabulous, and miss it. I've made a conscious decision not to buy products made by Hasbro, the big bullies!

  18. […] Hasbro and Mattel: Dumb, dumb, dumb – – mathewingram.com/work […]

  19. Well I'd rather prefer to have this things downloaded on my computer then to play them from some kind of website honestly. In this way I don't have to fear that I won't be able to play if my internet connection is having problems. That's what everyone should do in my opinion.

  20. Well I'd rather prefer to have this things downloaded on my computer then to play them from some kind of website honestly. In this way I don't have to fear that I won't be able to play if my internet connection is having problems. That's what everyone should do in my opinion.

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