Smashburger is a relatively new addition to the restaurant scene. Crafting a fast-casual experience, they are offering products Americans have never tasted before — burgers. Opening up 200 stores in the past seven years, founder Tom Ryan has attributed their success to word-of-mouth advertising among the youth. They opened up their first store in 2007, and ever since Americans have been saying, “Wait, what is that? Smash…burger?”

Their Old Logo

The next thing Americans are probably asking is why their logo is eerily similar to GameStop’s. And you wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that. Both have a nearly identical typeface and font size. For the record, the pictures above are of their old logo, the one they have gotten popular with. They have recently switched it to a newer, less similar one. But the old logo was close enough to cause confusion with anyone who saw it. The next thing you knew, it was the brunt of every joke. Getting thousands of Google Search results over the years, there have since been postings all over Reddit, images retweeted through Twitter, and video-tapings over the archaic “Vine.”

Many people made fun of the burger joint. But I would argue that is exactly the point. Smashburger intentionally copied a popular store’s logo that is also popular among their demographic — internet savvy millennials. By encouraging discussion among the people who complain about pre-orders and beta-testing, the founders of Smashburger knew they were going to be creating memes that would get millions of free online impressions (Impressions is what we call clicks in the biz). You thought you were making fun of them. You were really working for them. Just like Kim Kardishian’s famous scandals, the publicity turned into dollar $ign$.

(insert “broke the internet” joke here)

Over the years, marketers have gotten incredibly crafty at advertising their products. Specifically, encouraging organic conversation. Companies would much rather have us to talk about their product through word-of-mouth as opposed to hearing an ad. It’s more effective and cheaper than spending money on a T.V. commercial. As discussed in Robert Cialdini’s groundbreaking work, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, one of the most persuasive elements in our lives is social proof, or peer pressure. By copying GameStop’s logo, they got all of us to want to talk about their restaurant. And now because of a curated meme, many millennials are now familiar with their brand.

Their New Logo

It is only very recently that they have switched their logo. As someone with an opinion that shouldn’t be shared, I believe this is because their brand has grown to a large enough size that they can establish their own identity. The effect of the GameStop-Smashburger joke has worn off. Now, they’ll be more effective if they assert who they really are as a restaurant.

Just look at the graph below. It compares their Google search results in blue with something we are all familiar with, bathroom tile, in red.

Google search results of Smashburger vs. traditional bathroom tile

Their brand has even become more popular than bathroom tile! A true benchmark of success.

Let’s examine the growth of their brand even further with Smashburger in blue, bathroom tile in red, and Satan in gold:

Smashburger’s popularity is even gaining on Satan! (And I have no idea what caused that spike in the beginning of 2013)

With these kinds of trends, Smashburger is doing everything right to grow their brand. Pretty soon, Satan will be saying, “Yes, well-done and hold the cheese.”

Similar Disputes to GameStop-Smashburger

Going back to my previous point about Smashburger copying GameStop’s logo, some people may suggest that this is illegal. They can’t copy a logo. And that is partially true. Smashburger is only copying GamesStop’s logo, an element of GameStop’s trade dress. Trade dress consists of all of the various elements used to promote a product or service (more info from here). In this case, Smashburger copying GameStop’s logo is only a small part of GameStop’s entire promotion as a company. If Smashburger’s employees were equally rude and commanded you lay down a pre-order, then they would be copying GameStop’s entire trade dress. And since Smashburger is selling burgers and not video games, they are not confusing customers or taking profits away from GameStop. (For the record, I will not make easy jokes about GameStop’s low trade-in values, I have more integrity than that.)

This idea of copying a logo to steal away profits is called “trademark dilution.” It was an issue brought up to the Supreme Court in the form of Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc., a lawsuit between two retail stores: Victoria’s Secret and Victor’s Little Secret. For those who don’t know, Victoria’s Secret sells high-quality lingerie to those with low-quality self-esteem. Whereas Victor’s Little Secret sells adult “novelties,” selling low-quality items to those with even lower-quality self-esteem.

Well, as you guessed, Victoria’s Secret didn’t like their brand being tarnished. So, they sued Victor’s Little Secret and it was eventually brought up the Supreme CourtWith a Supreme Court decision that was shocking to the armchair law professionals like myself, Victor’s Little Secret won the case. It was a unanimous decision and all nine Supreme Court justices agreed in favor of Victor’s Little Secret. They stated that Victoria’s Secret could not prove that Victor’s Little Secret had damaged their profits.

That’s right. In the face of all the political contention of recent years, the Supreme Court only agreed with each other on a topic concerning lingerie and adult toys — the values of a true republic.

The Fallout and Going Forward

So what does this all mean? What we know is that Smashburger was able to gain traction from copying a logo whereas Victor’s Little Secret was able to beat Victoria’s Secret after copying their logo.

copying a logo = increasing growth = winning.

Now that Smashburger’s brand has been growing, I believe their knack for growth will become more ambitious. After being inspired by the Supreme Court case, I believe Smashburger’s next move is to copy Victoria’s Secret. Once they have established brand identity, Smashburger will want to grow it and expand their market into lingerie. I anticipate lingerie-themed burgers and a lingerie-burger fashion show. This will excite the people proud to show off their body and the people just a bit too proud to show off their body. This is the apex of marketing. Prepare yourself.

Thank you for reading this and please let me know below if you can contact Smashburger management for me.