Rapper 50 Cent, also known as Curtis Jackson, has sued Taco Bell and its advertising agency, accusing them of using his name and reputation without permission for its “Why Pay More” promotion, which offers items for 79, 89, or 99 cent(s).
According to the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan this week, Taco Bell released a letter to the media in which it said it would give $10,000 to Cent’s favorite charity if he changed his name for one day to “79 Cent,” “89 Cent” or “99 Cent,” and then went to a Taco Bell drive-through and rapped an order. “We know that you adopted the name 50 Cent years ago as a metaphor for change,” the letter said. “We at Taco Bell are also huge advocates for change. We encourage you to ‘Think Outside the Bun’ and hope you accept our offer.” The letter did go to Cent but only after being circulated to reporters.
Cent was not amused. “They crazy, man,” MTV quoted him as saying. “I guess they did that for promotional purposes. It’s not good that they did that. They didn’t have to do that.” Accordingly, Cent’s lawsuit alleges that defendants should not have done that.
The complaint, which says the letter reads “like a poorly written voice-over for one of Taco Bell’s television commercials,” alleges that “without authorization, Taco Bell traded on the name of the world’s biggest hip-hop star to draw attention to its new hip-hop-based advertising campaign….” The complaint also alleges that Cent has been criticized on blogs for supposedly “selling out” by endorsing Taco Bell, and that his reputation has been further damaged because he has been associated with the “pedestrian rap lyrics and hip-hop-themed games” on Taco Bell’s website.
“Pedestrian” is actually a pretty charitable description of Taco Bell’s hip-hop-themed web pages, which offer a Rap Name Generator (mine was “Biggie Crunch K Dot”) and encourage visitors to “drop the beat” on the “Why Pay Mo’ Rhyme Generator.” Upon dropping said beat, four “rappers” whose heads have been replaced with coins appear and proceed to move about, rapping something or other about Taco Bell’s allegedly awesome value menu. It may not be worth $4 million in damages, but it’s pretty bad.
A Taco Bell spokesperson insisted that the offer had been real. “We made a good faith, charitable offer to 50 Cent to change his name to either 79, 89, or 99 Cent for one day by rapping his order at a Taco Bell, and we would have been very pleased to make the $10,000 donation to the charity of his choice.” That Cent chose not to accept the offer and instead demanded $4 million in a lawsuit, he said, was disappointing.
Spin Magazine, which noted that Cent has aggressively defended his trademarks, was confused as to why he had not also gone after Israeli-American rapper Aviad Cohen, who has used the rap name “50 Shekel.” But since Cohen does not use that name anymore, maybe we can assume an attorney for Cent has already paid him a visit.
Cent issued a statement confidently suggesting that the same kind of beat-down would be inflicted upon Taco Bell. “When my legal team is finished with them,” he said, “Taco Bell is going to
have a new corporate slogan: ‘We messed with the bull and got the horns.'”