January 25, 2018

What’s the Big Dilly (Dilly) with Intellectual Property?

‘You have to make a decision!’ you exclaim in a muffled shout, knowing that an entire afternoon of effort is riding on this one moment. Your partner nods calmly, and with an intense focus stares at the remaining spots on the board. “D3” he states, quietly but confidently. “It’s a hit. You’ve sunk my battleship” comes the disappointed reply from the other side of the divider. For a moment you sit in shock, until…

“Dilly Dilly!” your partner screams out, letting you know you have accomplished something great together. And what better phrase to commemorate the occasion? But where did the phrase even come from, and why does it seem that everyone can’t get enough of it? Who came up with it, and what were their motivations?

If you have watched television, or interacted with almost anyone who has in the past 6 months or so, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Dilly Dilly” before. Generally used as an exclamation of approval or excitement, the cries have swept the nation since the phrase’s debut in August 2017. While some phrases arise naturally and gain popularity through frequent use (or in today’s world, memes), others are carefully crafted through much trial and error. Such is the case with the phrase “Dilly Dilly”, which was created by marketers for the Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch InBev) brand.
Bud Light is ready to go to battle over a competitor's use of its medieval-themed slogan!
(Photo credit: Max Pixel/
The phrase has proven so popular, that Bud Light’s parent company is even preparing Super Bowl ads featuring the slogan. With all of this investment, it’s not surprising that Bud Light is pretty protective of the “intellectual property” they have cultivated. That protection was apparent in a rather amusing way recently, when a micro-brewery in Minnesota decided to name one of their beers the “Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA”. As expected, Bud Light wasn’t about to let a direct competitor utilize their slogan, and chose to send legal documents to try to protect their intellectual property rights by forcing the micro-brewery to cease and desist. The reason this request made the news was due to the lighthearted way in which the cease and desist letter was sent; it was delivered by an “Old Timey Town Crier” who showed up unannounced dressed in full garb, reading out the legal document in old-timey language (as described in this article).  While this clever mechanism for delivery of legal documents made the news due to its peculiarity, I thought it would serve as a great platform for discussing why intellectual property rights exist in the first place, and why the court system would enforce them. (For proof of how this enforcement actually plays out, check out this recent settlement awarding $710,000 to ‘Grumpy Cat’)

I have heard reporters and commentators on television stations including CNBC and ESPN happily use the phrase “Dilly Dilly” as its popularity has grown, and Bud Light doesn’t seem to have any problem with this use. So why demand that one company cease and desist, while another is allowed (or even encouraged) to use the phrase? The answer lies in the fact that the value relies crucially on how popular or widespread the saying becomes, but at the same time how directly consumers relate the saying to the particular brand.
Companies invest a lot of time and money coming up with new slogans!
(Photo credit: Max Pixel/
Intellectual Property can take many forms. You may think of a cool new way to design a mousetrap, and to protect your design with a patent. Or you may come up with a new hit song that everyone seems to love. No matter the form of intellectual property, you’re only going to invest time and effort into trying to create it (likely failing many times along the way) if you think that you can at least recoup all of the money you invested by selling your successful product. In the case of Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” phrase, the company wants the phrase to be popular, but doesn’t want competing brands to be able to associate themselves with it. If there were no way to enforce ownership of such a phrase, you could just wait for someone else to develop a cool slogan and then steal it for yourself, rather than investing all of the time and money in failed attempts along the way.

As with most things in economics, it all comes down to incentives. To give companies an incentive to create new products, ideas, or even slogans, the government creates and enforces laws that forbid other entities from being able use those ideas or slogans for themselves. In other words, the government grants monopoly rights for some limited duration of time (perhaps 10 or 20 years), during which the inventor can earn profits on their property without other firms competing those profits away.

Bud Light found a rather ingenious way of enforcing their rights in a way that may actually bring more attention and popularity to their brand. In the battle to ship beers under the Dilly Dilly banner, it appears Bud Light has found a way to maintain their property rights without sinking their competitor’s business. I’d say that deserves a “cheers”, but perhaps the more appropriate phrase would be “Dilly Dilly!”


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