Commentary > Wastler's Wanderings
Spam, SPAM and Saddam
Talk about your unwanted endorsements...
December 17, 2003: 5:53 PM EST

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It's been a tough week for Hormel.

The president signs an e-mail nuisance bill called the CAN-SPAM law -- unfortunate for Hormel, given the company's most famous product.

And earlier this week, Hormel picked up a surprise unpaid endorsement from a despised, and ungroomed, tyrant.

There he was in all his scraggly infamy...Saddam Hussein, dragged from his spider hole. And what was in the kitchen of the hovel where he was camped out?

A Hormel nightmare? Just fantasy folks.  
A Hormel nightmare? Just fantasy folks.


"It's further evidence of the popularity of SPAM worldwide," said a Hormel Foods Corp. spokeswoman, who admitted she'd been kind of dreading a call on the subject.

Now you'd think that Saddam, given his religious background, wouldn't be too big on SPAM. But Baathists can't be choosers, right?

In all fairness, Mars candy bars were discovered too -- interesting since Mars products aren't distributed in Iraq or for that matter in the Middle East in general. (Hey, CIA, could this be a clue?)

Mars Inc. doesn't have any idea and doesn't see much positive in the situation.

"Our focus is on congratulating the military," said a spokeswoman.

There was rotted fruit around Saddam's shack too. Fact is, the guy was probably eating whatever he could on the run.

Nevertheless, the cameras keep returning to those cans of SPAM.

Hey, any publicity is good publicity, right?

Of course, for Hormel Saddam's plug comes against a continuing backdrop of negative association.

As we all know, SPAM is ham in a can (actually, SPiced hAM in a can, get it?), a fine product hailed far and wide by campers, hikers and broke college kids. (I liked mine diced and fried with eggs.) Around since 1937, it is a piece of Americana, right up there with Big Macs and Marlboros. It even has a museum and a fan club, though many folks would rather hide in Saddam's hole than eat the stuff.

And that opinion was held even before the Internet. As all us Net surfers know, "spam" -- as a noun or a verb -- also means junk e-mail. This association is blamed on the Monty Python comedic skit where vikings chant so loudly about SPAM that nobody else can talk.

Hormel has sort of shrugged its shoulders at the use of the slang, simply saying that if you're going to refer to its product, please respect the trademark and put it all in caps.

"We understand it's part of common language now, but if you are using it to describe our product, use it in the proper way," said the spokeswoman for Hormel.

This is a pretty pragmatic tact, since you aren't going to get 110 million Net folks to change their terms.

Still, it has to hurt when "spam" hits the headlines in a negative way.

And so it was this week. You see, President Bush signed the anti-spam bill. The CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003) outlaws unsolicited bulk e-mailing. It won't work, owing to the offshore nature of spam, multiple loopholes and hazy enforcement authority; but it's a start, I guess.

Unfortunately for Hormel (HRL: Research, Estimates), people will continue to hate spam. But fried SPAM and eggs, give it a try.  Top of page

Allen Wastler is managing editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn.

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