Sure it's outrageous that Disney wants to cash in on the Osama bin Laden killing, but there's a long history of trademarking war heroes.
This holiday season's animated blockbuster might be a tale of triumph about a band of cute fur seals trying to rescue their penguin friend from a misunderstood polar bear on a melting iceberg. That's certainly something Disney could pull off now that they've applied for a trademark for the term "SEAL Team 6."
In fact, Disney filed the application just two days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden introduced America to its newest national heroes.
This may seem like shrewd and swift action worthy of the SEALs themselves, or it may seem like a classless case of a corporation cashing in on death. Indeed, the move has drawn outrage from consumers who object to the idea of appropriating the American military for corporate profit. But it's nothing new. The military has always been a source of merchandising inspiration. G.I. Joe anyone?
Disney isn't even the first company to trademark SEAL Team 6. NovaLogic, a video game and toy company that makes military-themed products, trademarked the SEAL Team 6 name back in 2004 before abandoning the trademark in 2006. A cutlery company currently holds the trademark for Navy SEALs.
When it comes to business appeal, however, SEAL Team 6 has nothing on their better known counterparts in the Army. There have been more than 40 applications for trademarks on Delta Force, and 17 of them are still active.
Other companies have already turned the Osama raid into a merchandising opportunity. The RamBama doll, released last week, portrays President Obama as a Navy SEAL, sort of. (Side note: Admirably, or maybe just bizarrely, the toy company posts all its critical comments right on its site. Things like "I know you're doing this as a desperate move to conjure business, however, what a disgrace you idiots are!") This action figure is just $35 dollars. Why you'd want it, I'm not sure.
In Disney's case, the question is, can the company—with its squeaky clean brand—maintain its image and avoid being seen as the corporation that exploits American heroes? The ethics of the trademark will hinge on what other SEAL Team 6 products will be precluded by Disney's move.
This type of entrepreneurship is inevitable, trademarks or not. This SEAL brand is owned and managed by the American government. But Disney is a company particularly susceptible to public pressure. So let's make the most of this SEAL gold rush and call on Disney to donate 50 percent of profits from SEAL sales to the Veterans Administration to care for wounded vets. Disney fans can get their movies and knick-knacks and the military can get some good out of it too.
Search for "SEAL Team 6" here to see Disney's trademark application.