Author Sues WME Over Chobani Super Bowl Commercial

Dov Seidman - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Dov Seidman - Getty - H 2016

Chobani in 2014 launched its "How Matters" ad campaign with a Super Bowl spot that featured a grizzly bear ransacking a country store looking for the Greek yogurt to the tune of Bob Dylan's "I Want You."

Ironically, how the company got that idea for the ad matters — and it's now at the center of a lawsuit against William Morris Endeavor. 

Author Dov Seidman, and his company LRN Corporation, are suing WME for breach of fiduciary duty. He claims the company encouraged advertising agency Droga5 to use his message to develop Chobani's campaign behind his back.

"WME actively encouraged Droga5 to use WME's own client's intellectual property to land this lucrative advertising contract with Chobani and then to create a campaign that would make use of, and dilute the value of, its client's intellectual property — all without the knowledge or permission of its client," states the complaint filed Monday. 

"Seidman's use of 'how' as a noun has given it a distinct meaning, expressing the values-based ethos of individual and organizational behavior at the center of his how philosophy," states the complaint. "Phrases such as 'how is the answer,' 'how matters,' and 'get your hows right' are uniquely identified with Seidman."

The suit claims Seidman's agent, WME partner Jay Mandel, not only knew of his philosophy but actually helped him develop it over a decade of working together. Seidman says Mandel also failed to disclose WME's involvement in the Chobani campaign when Seidman approached him after it launched. 

According to the complaint, WME acquired 49 percent of Droga5 in 2013 and the Chobani commercials airing during the Super Bowl, Academy Awards and Olympic Games "no doubt enhanced the value of WME's new equity stake in Droga5."

WME spokeswoman declined to comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, how is how Seidman built his business — and this isn't the first time he's sued over Chobani's commercial in defense of his verb-turned-noun philosophy.

In June 2014 Seidman and LRN sued Chobani and Droga5 for trademark infringement and unfair competition. He cites this tweet from the company's verified account on Super Bowl Eve as proof they knew of his mantra before releasing the ad. 

Seidman's attorney Jacob W. Buchdahl says his client and LRN filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss their federal trademark claims against Droga5 and Chobani, "because Chobani is no longer using the 'How Matters' advertising campaign." The court has not yet ruled on the motion, so the claim is still pending, according to Buchdahl.

"Although the filing of the case against WME has no bearing on the claims pending against Droga5 and Chobani, we notified the New York federal court of the filing," Buchdal says. 

Buchdal's colleague Stephen Susman sent a letter Wednesday to the court. 

“Plaintiffs had previously requested leave with this Court to file a First Amended Complaint adding, inter alia, WME as a defendant,” writes Susman to New York federal judge Paul Gardephe. “In light of the decision to file against WME in state court, Plaintiffs will no longer seek to add WME as a party in this case.”

Currently there are almost 4,000 trademarks containing the characters “how” — including “how we live matters” registered to a Michigan non-profit, “how you get there matters” registered to Takeda Pharmaceuticals. Two “how matters” trademarks that are pending to Chobani have been opposed by Seidman and are suspended pending the outcome of the civil action.

Similar issues of fiduciary duty came up during the heated "Blurred Lines" litigation last year. Marvin Gaye's family not only sued Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for copyright infringement, they also went after EMI, owned by Sony/ATV, claiming the company failed to protect Gaye's songs, tried to intimidate the family against filing a lawsuit and didn't remain neutral when faced with a conflict of interest. That suit later settled.