Waiter, Waiter! There’s a Panda in My Cookie!


Don’t look now, but trademarks and copyrights are inside your food. 

With new marketing techniques hitting web browsers and mobile devices every day, it can be easy to forget that traditional marketing in meatspace still has areas to explore. And in that flesh-and-blood real world – the opposite of cyberspace – whoever came up with the idea of putting licensed trademarked or copyrighted characters inside fortune cookies to sell things is surely a modern-day guru. 

Fortune cookies have been a popular feature of Chinese-American cuisine since World War II. They originated in California, though who invented them and when is still a matter of debate. Since then, restaurant and carry-out customers have been on the receiving end of the cellophane-wrapped crunchy cookies, scented with vanilla, bearing slips of paper promising luck, love or wealth. 

What seems unusual, in recent deliveries, is the appearance of genuine mainstream movie promotions inside the cookies. 

In one case, “Kung Fu Panda 3: Only in theaters” was printed on a paper fortune next to the Golden Bowl cookie logo. It featured the smiling mug of “Po,” the movie’s animated hero, an image protectable under trademark and copyright laws. 

The venerable tradition of the paper fortune wasn’t abandoned, though, in favor of marketing. The two coexisted, as the fortune had lucky numbers, a Chinese vocabulary lesson and a statement of timeless wisdom along with an invitation to visit a website for a “second fortune.” 

The website didn’t abandon tradition either. Visitors see a huge “Kung Fu Panda 3” banner and get more lucky numbers and a Chinese lesson. But wait, there’s more! With a few clicks, they can get more fortunes, enter a raffle to win “customized fortune cookies” and watch the movie trailer.

At the bottom of the website, in small print just below the links to Twitter, Facebook and Google+, is the official copyright notice of DreamWorks Animation LLC.