There’s no obvious indication that Jamie Mageau is trying to be funny when he says that the Sept. 23 “cease and desist” letter he received from Loblaw Companies Limited, the parent company of No Name, was “pretty generic.”
“You think when you get a cease and desist order it’s going to have a distinct letterhead with an official seal or something. But I almost thought it was somebody flexing a bit of muscle,” says Mageau, a Toronto art director whose career has included stops at McCann, Zulu Alpha Kilo and Dentsu Canada. “It was so boring—just plain text on a white screen.”
The letter was sent in response to Mageau’s line of generic collector figures based on the Star Wars franchise. Part of the charm of the “inaction figures,” which featured no movable parts or attachments, and were aimed squarely at the collector community, was their use of No Name-esque branding.
Featuring black Helvetica lettering on a yellow background, Mageau’s figures featured plain-spoken descriptions of the Star Wars characters they portrayed. In Mageau’s Space Movie versions of sci-fi’s most iconic characters, Darth Vader was simply called “Villain,” while Luke Skywalker was “Farmboy” and RD-D2 was “Whistlebot.”
It was unmistakably similar to the matter-of-fact marketing that has helped make No Name a media darling in recent weeks, with clever social, TV and out-of-home advertising generating significant coverage both in the trade press and mainstream media (Loblaw Companies Limited did not respond to The Message‘s request for comment).
The letter, which Mageau posted to LinkedIn (albeit with the lawyer and company names blacked out), said that Mageau’s packaging was “confusingly similar” to No Name’s visual identity. “[W]e have to ask that you please stop using yellow and black packaging that so closely resembles the [name redacted] packaging,” it read.
Rather than ceasing and desisting however, Mageau responded by acknowledging the similarities between his Space Movie figures and the No Name brand, but noted that black type on a yellow background is a “quite common design style” that has been in use for decades.
To back up his point, he included an image of an old Toronto Hydro sign, dating from sometime between 1974 and 1979, that is highly reminiscent of the No Name brand.
“I would like to comply with your request but to do so I’d need to better understand what ‘Loblaw’ claims to have design ownership over,” he wrote. “Do you have a document that outlines the design elements that are covered?”
The response said that Mageau’s packaging included the same horizontal and vertical lines found at the bottom of some No Name products and repeated the request that he cease selling toys in similar packaging. It also recommended that he “engage legal counsel” to provide guidance on changes needed to ensure his toys weren’t infringing on its visual identity.
Mageau, though, would rather kiss a Wookie than give in. Instead, he created a new “cease-and-desist” line of Space Movie toys featuring the lawyer’s letter (now mocked up to mimic the No Name colour scheme) as the backing card. He made a batch of 40-50 of the new figures and took them to last week’s Steel City NerdCon & Nostalgia show in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Mageau says he was “pretty much done” with the Space Movie toys when the cease and desist letter arrived, having sold through his initial run of 96 figures. “Sales on that had totally slowed down, so I was about to leave it behind, but the fact they came at me and told me to stop doing what I was doing… maybe I’ll bring them back to life,” he says.
So is he feeling pretty secure from a legal standpoint? “Er…no,” he admits. However, some informal legal advice from a lawyer did help alleviate some of his fears about an imminent lawsuit.
Which just leaves Disney.