The Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI) said the breakfast cereal giant has initiated legal action after the cultural defence group applied for a trademark for their toucan logo.
However, it is claimed that Kellogg opposes the application and has threatened legal action because they believe the toucan logo infringes the trademark on Kellogg’s Toucan Sam character and games.
MAI dismissed similarities between its logo and the Kellogg character – which is connected to the Froot Loop cereal brand.
The group also rejected the claim that its toucan was in competition with Kellogg’s Toucan Sam.
“This is a bit like the Washington Redskins claiming trademark infringement against the National Congress of American Indians,” said Dr Francisco Estrada-Belli, president of the MAI.
Kris Charles, Kellogg Co vice president, global communications, confirmed to BakeryAndSnacks that Kellogg’s had been in contact with the MAI over the use of the toucan logo, but said that they hoped to identify a solution “whereby they can continue to use their logo for fundraising efforts, while also protecting our ability to continue to use our Kellogg's Froot Loops Toucan Sam trademark.”
“We're continuing these conversations and hope to find an approach that will work for both organizations,” she said.
The furore came after the MAI applied for a trademark for the initiative's toucan logo (pictured) in June 2010. It was reported that Kellogg claimed it was concerned about both consumer confusion and a dilution of our strong equity in these marks because the MIA had applied to use the logo on clothing – an area where Kellogg has extensively licensed the Toucan Sam character.
Reports said that the MAI received a cease and desist letter from Kellogg which also said that the company was concerned that the group’s logo uses Mayan imagery, “given that our character is frequently depicted in that setting.”
However the MAI said its logo is based upon a realistic toucan native to Mesoamerica, while Toucan Sam is a cartoon character with the colouring of Froot Loops. MIA legal counsel Sarah Mott added that two entities are not in competition.
Mott also challenged Kellogg’s claim that Froot Loops uses "Mayan" imagery, explaining that there is nothing Mayan in the Froot Loops adventure games, and accused Kellogg of "sending racist messages to children".
“Disturbingly, the villain in this Kellogg’s Adventure—and the only character of colour—is a ‘witch doctor’ who cackles malevolently when stealing from children,” said Mott.
“At best, this is culturally insensitive. I would characterize it as a demeaning caricature of an advanced and ancient civilization,” she said.
Kellogg Co said that the accusation of cultural insensitivities was been taken seriously and the game in question has now been removed from the company website.
“During our conversation, MAI raised some points about the cultural sensitivity of one of our marketing executions that we hadn’t considered. As a company long committed to diversity and inclusion and responsible marketing, Kellogg takes this concern very seriously,” said Charles.
She added that Kellogg will incorporate the MIA feedback into their future marketing efforts.