September 30, 2022
Few images are more instantly recognizable in the Philadelphia region than the Wawa goose, a cloying symbol of convenience and nostalgia. It's on storefronts and billboards seemingly every other mile — and counting — as the company's aggressive expansion barrels forward.
Surely, there's no way a political candidate could steal that goose for a ready-made campaign logo without getting caught, right?
Matt Jenkins, a Democrat running for Congress in New Jersey, appears to have an angry bird on his hands after using a campaign logo that looks an awful lot like a vintage iteration of Wawa's signature goose. You know how geese can be when they get upset.
On Wednesday, Wawa's attorneys sent Jenkins' campaign a cease-and-desist letter that demanded he stop using the logo.
"It has come to our attention that your congressional campaign is using a logo highly similar to and likely to be confused with Wawa's well-known goose logo," the letter said. "In fact, it appears that the geese used in your campaign's logo are identical to Wawa's earlier goose logo."
The letter, obtained by Politico, claims that Jenkins adapted a formerly registered trademark that Wawa used from 1994 to 2004. The company's current logo features the company's name in red letters beneath a redesigned goose, usually in a macaroni or red color, but sometimes white or metallic black on store signage. Jenkins' logo appears to have duplicated a goose that's barely distinguishable, if at all, from Wawa's old trademark.
Politico's Matt Friedman first brought the issue to Jenkins' attention on Twitter on Monday, joking that the candidate's strategy seemed to be to run on Wawa's popularity. Jenkins is considered a long shot against Republican incumbent Chris Smith, who has represented the Fourth District, which covers parts of Mercer, Ocean and Monmouth counties, since 1981.
Jenkins, responding to Friedman, acknowledged the similarity but called it a coincidence — denying that Wawa was the inspiration for the logo.
For a lot of people in our district, Wawa represents them. When we launched this race to replace Chris Smith, I wanted our logo to feel instantly familiar.— Matt Jenkins for Congress (@MattJenkinsNJ) September 27, 2022
No. It is only a coincidence they are similar. Anyone who has been to my district has seen geese and seagulls. They are a “Familiar” sight. My elementary school’s was similar.— Matt Jenkins for Congress (@MattJenkinsNJ) September 27, 2022
Based on this Twitter exchange, Jenkins reportedly was called by a Wawa lobbyist and an attorney, who asked him to "kindly" stop using the goose logo. The cease-and-desist letter came the next day.
"In the letter it says this was an old trademark … 'formerly registered,'" Jenkins told Politico. "This is going to cost me money to change. Everybody knows my finances. I don't have any. To go out and reprint my signs, all my literature."
The United States Trademark and Patent Office says the old Wawa goose trademark was canceled in February 2016 and was last owned by Wild Goose Holding Co., one of the companies represented in the letter sent by attorney Douglas Panzar, of Caesar Rivise, an intellectual property firm.
Jenkins, 51, is a Toms River native and Rutgers University graduate who formerly worked in biomedical research and later opened a custom furniture shop that grew into a general contracting business, according to his campaign site. His run for office is focused on issues such as gun reform, climate change and women's rights.
The Wawa problem is not a welcome distraction for a small campaign a little more than a month away from an election, but Jenkins could have a very stubborn goose on his hands.
Wawa, based in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, has roots that trace back to the early 19th century. The company's name comes from the town where it established its first milk plant and corporate headquarters. The word is derived from the Ojibwe word "wewe," which means snow goose, although Wawa's logo depicts a Canada goose.
These days, Forbes has Wawa ranked as the largest private company in Pennsylvania and the 29th largest in the U.S. Wawa has stores in six states and the nation's capital, with plans to expand to Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee in the coming years. It's becoming a corporate Goliath, one that can easily spend time and money tormenting a rookie politician over something relatively innocuous, but nonetheless potentially actionable.
The company is concerned that Jenkins' campaign logo will dilute the Wawa brand and give the false impression that Wawa is lending him support.
"If Wawa allows other uses – such as the use by your campaign – it runs the very real risk that its trademarks will be weakened," the cease-and-desist letter says. "As a New Jerseyan, familiar with Wawa's reputation among and relationship with the public, we trust that is not something that you would want to occur."
Or else this goose is coming for you, in other words.
A Wawa spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. The Jenkins campaign also didn't respond when contacted by PhillyVoice.
Jenkins told Politico that he suspects his opponent's campaign may have notified Wawa of the Twitter exchange about the logo earlier this week, in order to stick it to him. A spokesperson for the Smith campaign told the website that Jenkins' claim was "absurd."
It could be a long October for Jenkins.