I scream, you scream, we all scream for copyright infringement.
Mister Softee is suing a rival ice cream truck–New York Ice Cream of Queens–for allegedly stealing its trademarked jingle.
You know the one: It’s the tinny tune reminiscent of “Pop Goes the Weasel” that eerily fills your street on summer nights. But to Mister Softee, the now New Jersey-based soft serve truck that’s been around since 1956, the song is as much a part of the company’s livelihood as its rainbow sprinkles.
This isn’t the first time Mister Softee has gotten into a soft-serve scrap.
New York Ice Cream was formerly Master Softee, before it was sued in 2011 by Mister Softee for infringing on its logo, truck colors, and menu appearance.
But using Mister Softee’s famous jingle is the worst offense, says Joel Beckerman, founder of sonic branding firm Man Made Music and author of The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy.
“When you think about how they acquire their customers, they’re a little pop-up shop, essentially,” Beckerman told Fast Company. “And the way people know they’re there is by the sound. So if somebody else is using the siren song for ice cream instead of them, and then the Mister Softee truck comes around the corner in another hour, and you already bought your ice cream, that’s going to affect their bottom line directly.”
Beckerman, who specializes in the study of sound as a branding tool and intellectual property, says that while the appearance of the truck is important, sound is more pervasive because it happens in the subconscious. You don’t have to be looking directly at an ice cream truck to know it’s there and for it to drive you to buy ice cream.
“It’s about triggering these emotional reactions. It’s much, much quicker, and you create much more powerful reactions with sound than you do with sight,” Beckerman says. “It’s not like the jingle equals ice cream. The jingle equals your childhood.”
In Sonic Boom, Beckerman writes that by the late 1940s, American ice cream trucks played all sorts of nursery rhyme tunes from their trucks. But when James and William Conway founded Mister Softee in Philadelphia in 1956, they commissioned an original eponymous song from Les Waas, a songwriter at a Philly-based ad agency. It was originally meant for use in a radio ad, but the Conways loved it so much, they played it from their trucks, Beckerman writes.
Even though you can’t hear them, the 60-year-old song actually has lyrics, too. According to Sonic Boom, it starts out like this:
Here comes Mister Softee
The soft ice cream man.
The creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream,
You get from Mister Softee.
Beckerman says that technology has made it much easier to rip off intellectual property of all kinds.
“Just because music and sound is out in the air and because it’s ubiquitous, people are now ignoring the rights of the artists who create records and music and downloads. It’s in the zeitgeist about how technology facilitates all of this easy transfer and ‘ownership,'” Beckerman told Fast Company. “When you realize how much it actually took to create it, you can understand why it’s something they want to defend. It has iconic value for them and it actually triggers sales and reminds people of their childhood.”