Campbell's Soup trademarks the word 'chunky' after years of pop culture spoofs

A can of Campbell's Chunky soup
Julie Thurston Photography | Getty Images

The Campbell Soup Company has trademarked the word "chunky" after references to its "Chunky" branded soup made it into the lexicon of pop culture over the past couple of decades.

A trademark application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) noted that there had been "massive unsolicited media coverage of Chunky" such as parodies on "Saturday Night Live" ("SNL"), "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy," as well as references to the soup by rappers and novelists.

Campbell also noted its $1 billion advertising spend since 1988, including its NFL sponsorship. Its "Mama's Boy" commercials launched in 1997, featuring football player Reggie White and an actress playing his mother, who appears on the side-lines to make sure he has eaten his soup.

Those ads were followed by other NFL stars and in the early 2000s, Wilma McNabb, the real mother of player Donovan McNabb featured in advertising. Wilma McNabb then went on to become an SNL character, introduced by Tina Fey as "the star of the Chunky soup commercials." The fact that the commercial was parodied on "SNL" is "the ultimate sign you've 'made it' in pop culture," according to a Campbell spokesperson in an email to CNBC.

Brands have long been featured in pop culture, with hip hop artists such as Missy Elliott, Jay Z and 50 Cent name checking Mercedes in songs, while ads for Amazon Alexa and quit smoking brand Chantix have been parodied by "SNL," as highlighted in an article by Ad Week.

Here are some of the ways Chunky soup has made it into pop culture:

  • In "Murda Goons," a song by rapper Ghostface Killah, he says: "Leave your brain all chunky like I'm advertising soup for Campbell's."
  • In "You Know the Deal," a track performed by Lloyd Banks featuring Rakim, Banks says: "My wrist chunky like Campbell's Soup."
  • In "Sag Harbor," by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead, the novelist writes: "We were Campbell's men, had been for years, and nothing took the edge off like the talent in their boutique Chunky line. We adopted the slogan of Chunky's Soup as our rallying cry and motto — it was indeed 'The Soup That Eats Like a Meal.'"

In its filing, Campbell claims to have sold more than $13 billion worth of Chunky soup since 1988, and had run a survey showing that 75 percent of consumers associated the word "chunky" with soup.

A registration certificate, dated December 25, 2018, noted that the word had first been used by the Campbell Soup Company in 1969.

Campbell did not provide details of how much it had spent on the trademark when contacted by CNBC.