Fans of the tear-jerking NBC drama This Is Us will be aware of a certain incident with a kitchen appliance that had a big effect on the show’s Pearson family. (Fans who don’t know what I’m talking about and don’t like spoilers should read no further.)
Fans already knew that one of the main characters died prematurely, but the cause was not revealed until a January episode showing what happened. Turns out that a slow cooker with a temperamental switch caused a spark, which ignited a towel, which ignited the draperies, and things went from bad to worse.
Fans freaked out, taking to social media with tales (and gifs) of throwing away their Crock-Pots. The Crock-Pot Brand people leapt into action, quickly creating a Twitter account (@CrockPotCares) to deal with the public relations problem that had been dropped in their lap like a delicious and family-pleasing but nevertheless painful batch of hot soup.
By all accounts, the Crock-Pot folks did a pretty good job of dealing with the public relations fallout. They tweeted out messages of empathy and information about their product’s enviable safety record:
They also released a statement – too lengthy for Twitter – saying in part: “For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.” That statement even invited NBC’s help in correcting the misunderstanding, and the show’s creator obliged with his own tweet:
Something they did not do, which is a little surprising, is point out that the device in the show was not branded as a Crock-Pot. As shown below, the slow cooker in the Pearson home lacks the prominent RIVAL CROCK-POT branding from Crock-Pot slow cookers of the era . . . although other parts of the Pearson device, such as the switch and the handles, do suggest that the This Is Us props department may have de-branded a Crock-Pot brand cooker. Perhaps they did that at the same time they were rigging it to emit the deadly sparks – a thing which, from what I’m told, a genuine Crock-Pot brand slow cooker has never done and simply would not do.
So the Crock-Pot people seem to have passed up an opportunity to say “that’s not us” to fans of This Is Us. This despite the fact that the owner of the mark, Sunbeam Products, in 2014 obtained a registration for the mark IF IT DOESN’T SAY CROCK-POT THEN IT’S NOT THE ORIGINAL.
And there’s a related trademark issue here. Every so often we have discussed on this blog the possibility of “genericide,” which is the death of trademark that occurs when the trademark becomes the generic name for the product. Genericide is relatively rare, but when it happens, it is often because the company that first commercialized the product enjoyed such success that it dominated the market and, in the mind of the consuming public, the trademark became not only the name of the product but also the name of the type of product. Companies whose brands have achieved such prominent status that they threaten to become generic often take steps to ensure that the public is aware of the difference between the trademark and the generic term. If the public considers it a generic term, it can no longer be protected as a trademark and it becomes available for use by competitors. No brand owner wants that.
The CROCK-POT trademark seems like one that is so closely associated with the type of product that there could be a concern about genericide. That’s presumably the reason for the IF IT DOESN’T SAY CROCK-POT THEN IT’S NOT THE ORIGINAL mark.
Given all that, this might have been a good opportunity for Sunbeam’s people to point out that a malfunctioning slow cooker is not the same as a malfunctioning Crock-Pot® brand slow cooker. They might have pointed out that the guilty slow cooker couldn’t have been a Crock-Pot® brand cooker, because it didn’t say Crock-Pot, and, as a wise person once said, “if it doesn’t say Crock-Pot then it’s not the original.” They could have kindly requested that people not refer to the Pearson’s cooker as a “crockpot” when they freak out on social media. And they could have playfully lectured Mr. Fogelman, who didn’t help them out on the genericide point when he seemed to use “crockpot” as a generic term in his tweet about “those lovely hardworking crockpots.” But if Sunbeam has made any effort to do that, I haven’t found it. I would guess that they were so busy with the public relations rapid-response team that the trademark team couldn’t get a word in.
A final note: the Pearson Family Crock Pot even has its own Twitter account (@ThisIsUsCrckPt), but I’m not absolutely sure it’s genuine. The picture looks pretty different. But you know these Hollywood stars – maybe it’s just had some work done.