Toy company behaving like corporate bully in Super Bowl ad contest

GoldieBlox isn’t going to need to win the free Super Bowl commercial competition it’s in with the Locally Laid egg farm in Wrenshall, Minn. It’s doing just fine getting publicity thanks to its viral video that stole borrowed fairly used a Beastie Boys song in a viral video demanding disruption in the “pink aisle,” the tendency of companies to market pink frilly things to girls.

Beastie Boys didn’t want GoldieBlox to use its song, “Girls,” in the video. So GoldieBlocks sued for the right to use it, after it already had.

In doing so, however, it’s coming off as something less than the underfunded start-up and more — as Reuters’ Felix Salmon puts it today: “a well-lawyered Silicon Valley startup:”

This is faux-naïveté at its worst, deliberately ignoring the fact that Girls, the original song, is itself a parody of machismo rap.

The complaint is also look-at-me move, positively daring the Beasties to rise to the bait and enjoin the fight. Which the Beasties, in turn, are trying very hard not to do. In their letter to GoldieBlox, the Beasties make three simple points.

They support the creativity of the video, and its message; they’re the defendants in this suit, rather than the people suing anybody; and, most importantly, they have a long-standing policy that no Beastie Boys songs shall ever be used in commercial advertisements. (They don’t mention, although they could, that this last was actually an explicit dying wish of Adam Yauch, a/k/a MCA, and an integral part of his will.)

Given the speed with which the GoldieBlox complaint appeared, indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that they had it in their back pocket all along, ready to whip out the minute anybody from the Beastie Boys, or their record label, so much as inquired about what was going on. The strategy here is to maximize ill-will: don’t ask permission, make no attempt to negotiate in good faith, antagonize the other party as much as possible.

The Beastie Boys haven’t taken the bait, however, preferring instead to paint GoldieBlox as the corporate bully:

Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,” we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad.

We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads. When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.

“It’s a business, however admirable and adorable, and its adversaries are a group of musicians who aren’t being compensated for their work when someone else stands to profit,” New York Magazine’s Maggie Lange points out. “For a company dedicated to creativity and ideas and innovation, intellectual property seems like a worthy value — even when it’s made by stinky boys.”

By the way, the machine in the viral video apparently wasn’t created by girls but by mechanical engineers, a group headed by a man, working for more than three weeks.

In its bid for the free Super Bowl commercial, GoldieBlox is betting its “adorable” message will more than compensate for odious business practices. After all, a vote against GoldieBlox is a vote against girls.

Meanwhile, Jason Amundsen of Locally Laid is carrying on in the fashion one would expect of a company trying to catch a break: Being nice, taking whatever media coverage he can get without suing someone, producing a few goofy videos on the cheap and being just the type of business owner the contest was designed to help.