How Chuck E. Cheese’s Maintains Tight Control of Its Image

January 19, 2018

Along with his animated colleagues Mickey and Jerry, Chuck E. Cheese is one of the most famous mice in American entertainment. Since 1977 he has served as the mascot for his namesake pizza chain where generations of employees have put on costumes and played the iconic rodent for children’s birthday parties. Of course, the outfit’s design has changed significantly since the company launched as “Pizza Time Theatre” more than forty years ago. But while the suit may be different, the chain’s long-standing policy for dealing with older versions of it is not: every outdated or damaged Chuck E. Cheese costume ends up destroyed.

As you might expect, the company doesn’t like to talk about this aspect of the business too often. Toward the end of last year, though, a video surfaced on a local Illinois news site showing two former employees beating an old Chuck E. Cheese head with a sledgehammer. The chain quickly distanced themselves from the pair, claiming the staffers had “went rogue” at a location that recently closed. Still, representatives did not deny that destroying discarded costumes is an established policy. Only rather than assaulting the poor mouse in a back alley, the company normally sends the outfit to a warehouse where it’s stripped for useful parts and then destroyed until it is unrecognizable.

After all, no one at the chain wants a kid to open a dumpster and discover the disembodied head of Charles Entertainment Cheese staring back at them (That’s his full name, by the way). “Our policy at Chuck E. Cheese’s, for when the stores operate, is to never bring that head out by itself when the store’s operating,” said the company’s real estate manager Brian Dalhke. “Because that can be very traumatic for a child.” Besides protecting the innocence of their young clientele, the policy also prevents outsiders from finding and using costumes against the company’s wishes. “If you own this intellectual property writ large, you don’t want a secondary market to pop up. [You don’t want] people selling animatronic Chuck E.’s on eBay,” said intellectual property attorney Meredith Rose. If many people outside the business began using Chuck E. Cheese’s image on their own, it could ultimately compromise the company’s legal monopoly on the character’s trademark.

Then again, maybe the chain destroys old costumes because they eventually become uninhabitable. “By the time they close down a Chuck E. Cheese’s, those things have been used for a couple of years,” said Rose, who was an employee of the pizza chain before becoming an attorney. “And if the frequency of not cleaning them is still the norm, then I wouldn’t want to have anyone else set foot in that.”

Questions:

  1. Why does Chuck E. Cheese’s destroy its old costumes? Do you think the company could use another strategy to protect its image?
  2. Why is it important for companies like Chuck E. Cheese’s to maintain close control of their intellectual property rights and trademarks?

Source: Paula Mejia, “Why Chuck E. Cheese’s Has a Corporate Policy About Destroying Its Mascot’s Head,” Atlas Obscura, December 18, 2017. Photo by Steven Depolo.

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