Mayor McCheese v. H.R. Pufnstuf

Fans of Sid and Marty Krofft’s show H.R. Pufnstuf probably noticed that McDonald’s old McDonaldland ad campaign was, ahem, fairly similar in feel to the show. As it turns out, McDonald’s ad agency, Needham Harper & Steers, had originally approached the Kroffts in 1970 about designing a Pufnstuf-type campaign for the restaurant. According to Hal Erickson’s book Sid and Marty Krofft, the ad men asked the Kroffts some pretty specific questions about their creative and technical processes, right down to what fabrics they used and how they got the characters’ mouths to move.

The Kroffts thought they had a deal, but McDonald’s nixed the campaign. Then, in 1971, the restaurant debuted the McDonaldland commercials that blatantly ripped off the Kroffts’ technology and feel. The Kroffts would later learn that the ad agency had only met with them in order to pick their brains on technical details. Heck, Mayor McCheese even bore an uncanny resemblance to H.R. Pufnstuf, who happened to be the mayor of Living Island.

The Kroffts sued McDonald’s for ripping off their idea and technology, and the legal battle stretched until 1977. (Among the best arguments in legal history: Mayor McCheese was clearly not a ripoff of H.R. Pufnstuf because of his formal attire and diplomat’s sash. Pufnstuf displayed his mayoral credential on a cumberbund.) In the end, the Kroffts won $50,000, and according to Erickson’s book, “have regularly collected checks from McDonald’s, while the hamburger people have done their best to keep the particulars of the case out of the public’s earshot.”

[by Ethan Trex]