Lobster pinches crab in casino buffet ad dispute
February 21, 2012

An all-you-can-eat buffet advertising flap between a North County Indian gaming tribe and an East County one has ended with the lobster claw crushing the snow crab. The Viejas Band of Mission Indians in December agreed to stop advertising its all you-can-eat snow crab buffet using a "Pinch Yourself" campaign after the tribe that operates the Valley View Casino filed a federal lawsuit arguing the crab promotion was a direct rip-off of its all-you-can-eat lobster buffet campaign created years earlier.

Filed last summer and dismissed two months ago, the lawsuit was brought by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, which operates the successful Valley View Casino and Hotel in Valley Center. It states that in September 2009, the casino launched its Pinch Yourself lobster buffet campaign that shows a lobster pinching the P in "Pinch." Advertisements displaying the lobster appeared and continue to appear in many magazines, billboards, T-shirts, newsletters and various websites.

"Last year, Viejas started promoting an all-you-can-eat snow crab buffet that too showed claws pinching the word "pinch." "As a result of (Valley View's) use of its PINCH YOURSELF mark, (Valley View's) all-you-can-eat lobster buffet has been a resounding success, and consumers have come to recognize PINCH YOURSELF as an indicator of Plaintiff's goods and services," the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit also said that in February of last year, Valley View began airing two TV advertisements for the casino and resort that were shot in a style designed to "evoke particular moods and create the sense that Plaintiff's casino is sophisticated, indulgent, luxurious, opulent, and sexy." They referred to the ads as the "L'Amore Commercials." The ads have run thousands of times throughout the Southern California market.

The "Pinch Yourself" and L'Amore campaigns have led to a number of awards from gaming magazines for best overall gaming resort and best buffet, according to tribe's lawyers. On Aug. 3, of 2011, according to the suit, the Viejas Casino in Alpine began an advertising campaign marketing an all-you-can-eat snow crab buffet also using a "Pinch Yourself" promotion. A month earlier, according to the lawsuit, Viejas started airing a TV commercial that was strikingly similar in style and filming methods to Valley View's L'Amore ads.

In August, Valley View sent letters to Viejas regarding infringement and misappropriation of the campaigns and asked Viejas to stop both. Valley View said the Viejas ads were causing them harm because they created confusion on the part of consumers in the highly competitive local casino market.

Viejas refused to pull the ads.

However, in December, the lawsuit was dismissed at the request of Valley View's attorneys after a Viejas administrator signed a declaration stating that Viejas Casino "does not presently plan to restart those advertisements, although it may do so in the future."

The lobster won.

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