http://www.foxmarketwire.com/wires/0817/f_ap_0817_37.sml 5.52 p.m. ET (2252 GMT) August 17, 2000
LOS ANGELES Ralph Nader, who was a skinny, unknown crusader against an auto giant until General Motors put a detective on his trail 35 years ago, reveled in the role of corporate victim again Thursday, the target of a $5 million corporate lawsuit.
MasterCard International Inc. company accused Nader, the presidential candidate of the Green Party, of trademark infringement in the Greens' hardly noticed commercial, a parody of MasterCard's $100 million "Priceless'' ad campaign which has run in 48 countries and 22 languages.
"MasterCard should lighten up,'' responded the still-skinny Nader. "They're taking their name 'Master' too seriously. This is America.''
In the real political world, MasterCard probably did Nader and the Greens a huge favor. The Nader ad ran on television in several major markets but only for 11 days. It also runs on the Greens' Website.
It was scheduled to end Thursday night because the Green Party doesn't have an advertising budget anything like MasterCard's.
MasterCard spokesperson Sharon Gamsin said the company didn't care if the lawsuit gave the Greens priceless exposure.
"We knew he probably would use this as a platform,'' she said.
Actually, MasterCard had tried to get Nader to surrender quietly. It sent a letter threatening legal action and the company's CEO, Robert Selander, interrupting a vacation, returned a Nader telephone call to see if they could reach "a good-faith solution,'' Gamsin said.
Nader said he told Salinder that unless the suit were dropped, "I would counterattack.''
"If MasterCard has never met a hornet's nest, they are about to,'' he said, sounding more like a battle-scarred consumer crusader than a budding politician. He accused credit card companies of gouging consumers, imposing "staggeringly high'' interest rates and engaging in deceptive practices.
All of which recalled the early Nader -- the young man just out of Harvard Law School who wrote a book in 1956, "Unsafe at Any Speed'' accusing General Motors of ignoring dangerous flaws in its Chevrolet Covair.
No one much noticed until GM hired a private detective to look for dirt in Nader's personal life, which, at the time, consisted of living in a boarding house where the phone was down the hall and taking taxis because he didn't drive a car.
Nader sued for invasion of privacy, settled for $425,000 and used the money to launch his consumer movement. "Nader's Raiders'' have been bugging corporations ever since, through a Nader network of activist organizations and an army of low-paid foot soldiers.
At MasterCard headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., Gamsin said the lawsuit had nothing to do with Nader's presidential candidacy and everything to do with protecting an ad campaign.
"Nader is trying to position his ad as a spoof of the MasterCard campaign,'' said Gamsin. "It isn't. 'Priceless' is one of the most successful ad campaigns ever run globally and we will do anything we need to protect our rights.''
The ads show sentimental episodes of families together at places like the beach or a baseball game and assign monetary values to various material items. The items. The spots conclude with happy family moments of "priceless'' value. The ads conclude: "There are some things in life money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard.''
The Nader ad used a nearly identical format to decry the role of money in politics. The ad opens with video clips of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, as an announcer intones "Grilled tenderloin for fund-raiser: $1,000 a plate. Campaign ads filled with half-truths: $10 million. Promises to special interest groups: over $10 billion.''
"Finding out the truth: Priceless,'' the announcer concludes, showing Nader working through a mountain of paper. "There are some things money can't buy. Without Ralph Nader in the presidential debates, the truth will come in last.''
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