This post was updated 6 pm PT on 2/3/2014 with a response from Intuit.
Oakland toy startup GoldieBlox got its 30 seconds of fame on Super Bowl Sunday, and there was a bit of déjà vu in the commercial featuring a group of industrious little girls.
The commercial – the grand prize in a small business competition held by Mountain View software maker Intuit – is set to “Come On Feel the Noize” by English rock band Slade. The commercial is a parody of the song, with the lyrics changed to:
“Come on ditch your toys
Girls make some noise
More than pink, pink, pink
We want to think.”
The girls toss aside their pink doll houses and sabotage a girls’ beauty pageant to build a rocket.
Sound familiar? The commercial is strikingly similar to one GoldieBlox put up on YouTube last year that parodies the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls.” The video advertisement, which has since been removed from YouTube, featured three girls playing with a Rube Goldberg contraption while singing alternative lyrics to the tune of “Girls.” The video had more than 8 million views in a week, ignited a firestorm of debate over intellectual property rights and pitted GoldieBlox founder and inventor Debbie Sterling against the legendary hip-hop group.
In November, GoldieBlox sued the Beastie Boys, claiming their video was a parody and the company’s use of the song was fair. The Beastie Boys fired back last month with a lawsuit that alleges GoldieBlox committed copyright and trademark infringement. That legal battle is still playing out – which makes Intuit’s choice to parody a famous rock song an interesting one.
Intuit paid for the commercial – the software company declined to say how much, but others estimate 30 seconds of air time during the big game cost about $4 million – and part of that cost, said Intuit spokeswoman Elisabeth Gettelman, was acquiring rights to the song. So unlike GoldieBlox’s Beastie Boys snafu, Intuit had a license to use the Slade song.
In fact, Gettelman said, Intuit didn’t see much similarity between the two videos.
“There was nothing to parody,” she said. “It was just a high energy song.”
Well, not just any high-energy song. The original lyrics are ripe for girl-power-themed satire:
“Come on, feel the noise
Girls, rock your boys
We’ll get wild, wild, wild
Wild, wild, wild.”
Where satire, parody and copyright mix, the law can get a bit fuzzy. And for some viewers, the Beastie Boys incident is fresh enough that the Super Bowl commercial has, for at least some music fans, piled on to the copyright controversy.
But other viewers said the video’s message, which breaks down gender stereotypes that have kept girls out of the math and science fields, is powerful enough to stand on its own, and arguments over copyright issues distract from GoldieBlox’s mission – to prepare girls for jobs in male-dominated fields such as engineering. It was also, some said, a nice antidote to Super Bowl ads such as Carl’s Jr.’s infamous commercial last year, in which Danish model Nina Agdal eats a fish sandwich while removing most of her bikini, or years of offensive Super Bowl ads from GoDaddy that debased women. (Although GoDaddy’s commercial on Sunday, which featured a woman engineer who quit her job to pursue a puppet business, was a decided departure from that theme.)
Mechanical engineer Dory VanderLinden said in a note to this newspaper that the GoldieBlox ad made companies such as Volkswagen look silly. The Volkswagen commercial that aired during the Super Bowl featured more than a dozen male engineers and the slogan “a German engineer gets his wings.” She wrote a letter to Volkswagon, saying the company “blew it.”
“I think this is the perfect time to highlight the cultural stereotype against women in technology,” VanderLinden said in an email. “We can change this stereotype and make it easier for the next generation of female inventors to break into the field.”
Which is exactly what GoldieBlox aims to do.
Photo at top: Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, demonstrates how to play her new toy for girls called Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine at the company’s office in Oakland on Feb. 20, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)