Surprisingly to those of us in North America, this story actually begins with another battery manufacturer, Duracell. It’s the fuchsia tale of trademarks, beer, back room deals and Leslie Neilson.
In 1973 Duracell used a slew of pink bunny toys in a commercial to advertise that the longest lasting battery was their own. The ad ran for many years. Thus it became recognizable enough to parody. Energizer decided to poke fun at the copper top battery behemoth with a pink bunny rabbit that would literally run circles around Duracell’s drumming toy. Below is one of the original ads, followed by the first Energizer Bunny commercial from 1989.
Some people believe that Duracell wasn’t phased by the parody ads in the beginning because it would most likely confuse the consumers into buying more Duracell batteries. After all, by the time Energizer gave their cool cottontail life, Duracell had been using their heralding hare for 16 years. Yet, Energizer went all-in, they trademarked their pink plushy in the U.S. Nearly 30 years later, the Energizer Bunny is still working for the company and Americans have often used it to describe someone with incredible endurance. Of course across the pond in the Europe, people use “Duracell Bunny” to describe someone with a lot of stamina because the pink bunny has continued to work there since its inception.
How did this pink bunny battle get territorial? That Energizer trademark in the U.S. paved the way for the two companies to come to an agreement in 1992. I hope the contract was scribed on pink stationary. Energizer took North America and Duracell was given the other countries. This 1992 agreement came to light recently when some Duracell packaging showed up in the U.S. displaying their pink mascot. Energizer filed a lawsuit citing the “confidential” agreement.
The Duracell Bunny has continued to grow and evolve throughout the years. While still claiming to have mad drummer skills, the fuchsia figure has become sporty. The bunny dropped the toy look for a sleek appearance for running, boxing, skiing and of course, soccer. Currently, Duracell plays up the fact that their mascot was created by a NY advertising agency in 1973. The character even has his own biography.
Meanwhile, the Energizer doppelganger has stuck with the Ray-Bans, Joe Cool aesthetic. Much of the official timeline on their site is filled with coverage of his pinkness. “Look at me, I’m on social media, I was in the Macy’s parade and fought Darth Vader.” In a way, comparing to the two corporate characters is like the contrasting the countries where they work. The Europeans work hard, but they’re laid back and those of us in the West are brash, loud attention seekers.
Drunk With Trademark Power
Like Apple, Energizer seems to love taking companies to court. As mentioned above, in 2016 Energizer brought a suit against Duracell because some packages intended for the European market supposedly ended up in the States. Furthermore, they’ve gone after Rayovac for packaging that was suspiciously close to their own. However, things get even weirder.
Remember, Energizer carefully parodied the Duracell commercials that had been running for years in 1989. Quickly after that the company took to parodying other commercials with their pink plunderer interrupting the spot, drumming across the screen.
Therefore, it’s sort of insane that the company actually brought a lawsuit against Coors for their own commercial parody in 1991. The commercial features a pretty standard beer ad except Leslie Neilson, wearing rabbit ears and a tail, walks across the screen drumming a Coors Light drum.
The courts ruled that it was a fair parody because Neilson was a person, not a pink bunny toy. The chain of events is somewhat mind-boggling, a parody ad is used to file a trademark booting the original battery bunny out of the country. Then, a parody of the parody is sued for trademark infringement but Coors Light defends their case and wins.
One question, why are bunnies the chosen mascot? Are the companies tapping into that old fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare?” Being faster than a turtle isn’t something to brag about. That’s like saying you’re smarter than an inanimate object. The only other thing that comes to mind is that rabbits are know for their ability to multiply. I imagine nymphomania would require a lot of energy, but I somehow think that’s not why the top 2 battery sellers have a bunny beef. Apparently, it really comes down to the lazy marketing of Energizer. “Hey, Duracell’s been doing that pink bunny thing for 16 years. Let’s do that too.” Like Android and iOS or Windows and MacOS stealing interface ideas from each other, Energizer decided to not pay for creative marketing ideas. They simply said, “See that? Do it.”
That’s the tale of the battling battery bunnies, at least for now. That 2016 case is not yet resolved. Duracell claims that Energizer is trying to exploit a distribution issue to renegotiate the 1992 agreement to carve up territory. Meanwhile, as we wait to learn the fuchsia fallout from the case, the number 3 battery seller keeps creeping upwards towards rival manufacturers. It would seem that many people have no interest in pink bunnies and simply keep going and going to stores to buy house brand batteries.