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Spam maker swallows junk email double meaning

May 31, 2001

Spam's squabble with cyberspace is done as Hormel Foods takes a bite of humble pie

Hormel Foods, the maker of the legendary spiced lunch meat made of pork shoulders and ham, says it can live with Spam's double meaning as junk electronic mail.

In a message posted on the official Spam Web site, Hormel says it has no qualms with the alternate meaning as long as one writes SPAM, the meat, in all capital letters, and spam, the unsolicited e-mail, in lowercase.

While the policy is not new -- a Hormel spokeswoman said it was put up more than a year ago -- the posting got extra attention following an anti-junkmail conference called SpamCon held earlier this month in San Francisco.

There was a time when Hormel was not so open to alternate meanings of Spam for fear they would injure the brand name.

At one point, the company challenged Jim Henson Productions for the creation of a muppet named Spa'am, the high priest of a tribe of wild boars that worships Miss Piggy, the porcine muppet diva. A court threw out the claim in a 1996 ruling.

And in 1997, the company took on a junk e-mail entrepreneur named Sanford "Spamford" Wallace, who posed with cans of Spam to promote his business.

Today, the story is different.

"We do not object to use of this slang term," the Spam Web site states, "although we do object to the use of our product image in association with that term."

Julie Craven, Hormel's director of public relations, said the decision was made to accept the e-mail meaning of spam after the term's popularity mushroomed.

"It certainly was at a point where it was becoming so much out there, and so much a part of popular culture," she said.

Spam, the meat, is stuck in distinctive tins and shipped around the world and is apparently very popular in Hawaii, according to the Spam Web site.

The slang meaning of "spam" is said to have been inspired by a skit by British comedy troupe Monty Python in which a group of Vikings mutter "Spam, Spam, Spam," with increasing volume, drowning out normal conversation.

Electronic junk mail hits Internet users worldwide, clogging the wires with solicitations for everything from get-rich-quick schemes to pornography.

Spam is not the first brand name to take on an additional, and sometimes unwanted, meaning. DuPont Co.'s non-stick coating Teflon had been used to describe Mafia boss John Gotti as the "Teflon Don" for his ability to keep criminal charges against him from sticking.

While the score with junk e-mail has been settled, Hormel's Craven said the company still plans to vigorously defend the brand name.

"If somebody used it inappropriately, they could very well hear from us," she said. "Next to our employees, our brand marks are our most important asset."

Copyright © 2001 CNET Networks, Inc.


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