My Shmadidas: Why Do They Blur Out Logos in Music Videos?

Slate's Culture Blog
March 30 2011 12:35 PM

My Shmadidas: Why Do They Blur Out Logos in Music Videos?

In the documentary-style video for Chris Brown's new single"Beautiful People," nearly every logo or trademark Brown's crew encounters hasbeen disguised with a blurry spot. As they ride their scooters around town, one guy sports a hoodie with a figure that'sbeen smudged out, while a low-hanging cloud seems to have settled aroundPharrell Williams' backpack, preventing us from identifying any brand name. Similarlyobscured logos can be found everywhere from recent videos like Wiz Khalifa's " Black and Yellow "to classics like Mase's " WelcomeBack " and Snoop Dogg's " Drop It Like It'sHot ." Why do they blur out logos in music videos?

There are various reasons. Exhibitors of music videos, like MTV, sometimes pixelatetrademarks because they'd prefer to have brands pay them for exposure. Directors,meanwhile, obscure them as a precaution against lawsuits like when EmersonElectric Company sued NBC after a Heroes character mangled herhand in one of its InSinkErator garbage disposals. In a similar case, Mercedes-Benzand other companies demanded that their logos be digitally removed from the shantytown scenes of Slumdog Millionaire a clean-up job that,according to director Danny Boyle, cost "tens of thousands of pounds."


Still, it's not inherently against the law to flash thatNike swoosh or Apple apple in a music video. Legal action may be taken, butonly in certain cases. Trademarkinfringement occurs primarily when there is a "likelihood of confusion" thatthe product (in this case, the music video) originated from the trademark owner.Since a viewer is unlikely to think that either the New York Yankees orZildjian cymbals produced Brown's video, Brown can include their logos withoutfearing action on those grounds. However, the owners of widely recognizabletrademarks can forbid others from using those symbols on the grounds of " trademark dilution ,"which is when the use of a logo diminishes the strength of its association witha particular product, or when the trademark is featured in an unflatteringcontext (such as mangling the hero's hand).

Blurring out, pixelating or " greeking " logos (a.k.a. productdisplacement ) are quick and easy ways to avoid such legal headaches. Butthe simplest method tends to be avoiding the use of unlicensed trademarks inthe first place. In reality television, for example, stars may be encouraged todrink out of plastic cups rather than branded bottles.

Of course, artists can also seek permission to use thetrademark, and may even be paid for the trouble. Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video,for example, is full of product placement it features everything from Polaroid cameras in Gaga's hands to Diet Cokes in her hair. Someof the brands paid for the screen time (e.g. Miracle Whip), some were featuredas part of preexisting marketing partnerships with Gaga (e.g. Hewlett Packard),while still others were simply used with permission as unpaid placement (e.g.Wonder Bread).

As product placement and brand partnerships continue to multiply in music videos, it's increasingly rare to spot a logo without wonderingwhether the placement was paid. Whatever the story behind a product's inclusion,most artists and fans would prefer to avoid the distraction.

Follow  Brow Beat onTwitter . For more culture coverage, like  Slate  Culture  onFacebook.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 22 2014 12:30 PM Turkey Just Got Forty-Six Hostages Back From ISIS. How Did That Happen?
Sept. 22 2014 12:44 PM The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy
The Shortcut
Sept. 22 2014 12:31 PM Down With Loose Laces A simple trick to tighten your running shoes for good.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 12:22 PM The Age of the Streaming TV Auteur
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.