Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Philadelphia Trader Joe's exploiting Calvin and Hobbes

The Trader Joe's in downtown Philadelphia (2121 Market) uses Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes characters to sell groceries via in store displays. Watterson, who notoriously opposes the licensing of the characters, doubtless didn't approve.

Not all of Calvin's lemonade is spent on the symbols of American truck manufacturers, and it comes in several delicious flavors, as seen here:

Here Hobbes here has no jokes, just bags of sickly sweet kettle corn. There's not even an attempt at humor.

Trader Joe's tries very hard for a friendly, informal atmosphere. And while it doesn't matter if your friends draw Calvin and Hobbes, it does matter when a company uses these trademarked and copyrighted characters to flog balsamic vinegar.


Anonymous said...

First an foremost, get a fucking life or a hobby. You must be retaining alot of tension anally. May I the suggest the purchase of Trader Joe's Colon Cleanse (It's by the vitamins).

factory123 said...

First and foremost - sphincter squeezing is my hobby, and I'm damn good at it.

Second - Watterson opposes using his characters to sell shit even for his own profit: "each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved." (Did he consider balsamic vinegar?) If he wouldn't sell a tshirt to enrich himself, why should you use his creation to sell crap for Trader Joe's? The posters aren't just illegal, they're tacky.

Third - While I appreciate the artistry involved, that Hobbes standing there hawking kettle corn is lazy. It's just Hobbes with a bunch of product. Of course, Calvin talking about how Trader Joe's vinegar "brings my salad to life" also scores points in the mouth-vomiting category.

Anonymous said...

1. I heard about this from someone who was there. She said the people taking pictures were asked to stop and did not, despite having a legal obligation to do so.

2. So apparently it's fine to disregard the law when you want to take pictures for your petty rant.

3. TJs changed the images after someone complained (3 guesses who it was).

4. Yeah, they shouldn't have used the characters, but there are proper channels to go through. Committing a crime and then putting the evidence on your blog probably isn't one of them.

5. Seriously, get a life.

factory123 said...

1-I thoroughly agree with you that TJ's shouldn't have used Calvin and Hobbes in their advertising. That's an excellent point. I'm glad we found common ground.

2-It's not a crime to take a picture. Nobody at Trader Joe's told me to stop, so I had no obligation to quit snapping photos.

3-I didn't complain to TJ's. I'm neither TJ's mom nor Watterson's lawyer. It seems, though, I wasn't the only person who noticed the sleazy appropriation of Watterson's characters.

4-Proper channels? What, like court? Despite it's advertising and carefully crafted corporate image, TJ's isn't my friend -- I don't owe it any obligation to avoid criticism.

Seriously, it's a grocery store, not your buddy. Why defend it like it's your friend?

Anonymous said...


You need to get a life.

Anonymous said...

It's really interesting to note that:
"Bill Watterson designed grocery advertisements for four years prior to creating Calvin and Hobbes"

That makes me wonder if Watterson really would have hated these bill boards so much. Especially since I doubt that the artist who drew them was doing it to be exploitative...more likely s/he was in a way trying to pay homage to a hero.

Trader Joe's allows each store artist to have a bit of free range when it comes to the work that they put up (pretty unique for a grocery store to hire a full-time artist, let alone give them a say in what they design!) cite

But I'm guessing that thanks to your blog, the Philadelphia Trader Joe's store artists have a bit less freedom these days, given that on a recent visit there all the signs in the store that referenced Calvin & Hobbes had been redone.

Proud of yourself?

factory123 said...

"The appealing innocence and sincerity of cartoon characters is corrupted when they use those qualities to peddle products. One starts to question whether characters say things because they mean it or because their sentiments sell T-shirts and greeting cards. Licensing has made some cartoonists extremely wealthy, but at a considerable loss to the precious little world they created." -- Watterson.

The artists were probably very fond of Calvin and Hobbes and intended the ads as some sort of homage. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong venue.

Trader Joe's is not a gallery. It is not an outlet for unfettered creative expression. It's a business. The people who create ads for TJ's, like all other advertising professionals, have no right to take another's work without permission or compensation. TJ's makes money by selling vinegar, and with these ads they sell vinegar by trading on the love of Calvin and Hobbes' innocence and sincerity.

I think that the issue is clouded by brand love. You think of TJ's as a friend, and are willing to give it a pass. Take a similar situation as a comparison: do you think that McDonald's New Wave Nigel toy is acceptable?

Now, I doubt that I had anything to do with those ads coming down. The above-noted complainers did that. But I'm fine with the ads coming down. The artists broke the law and, by their little homage, cheapened the work of somebody who is very much invested in the integrity of their art. I find the artists neither legally nor morally defensible.