Overworked Money? 

Brokerage firm sues First Tennessee over a popular ad campaign.

How original is the idea of dressing up people as dollar bills and building an ad campaign around the theme of putting your money to work?

That's the question at the root of a lawsuit challenging First Tennessee Bank's widely seen advertising campaign featuring working "Money Men." J.B. Oxford and Company, a struggling online discount brokerage firm with Nashville connections, charges copyright infringement and unfair competition based on its own "loafing money" ad campaign.

But the CEO of First Tennessee's ad agency, Michael Thompson of Memphis-based Thompson and Company, suggests it's the courts that are being overworked, not the ad campaign.

"The lawsuit is totally without merit," said Thompson. "We conceived it, and we're proud of it. We didn't copy anything."

Thompson said there could well be other variants of human-money ads, just as a characterization of a man in the moon might be widely used to sell telescopes. "We just executed it," he said.

First Tennessee marketing officials declined to comment.

The lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in Nashville although First Tennessee is based in Memphis. J B. Oxford CEO Christopher Jarratt and President James G. Lewis live in Nashville and are partners in Third Capital Partners, which bought a financial interest in J.B. Oxford in 1998. The lawsuit was filed by George Barrett of the Nashville firm of Barrett, Johnston & Parsley. Barrett is a prominent labor advocate and Democrat who filed a landmark 1968 lawsuit challenging Tennessee's dual system of higher education.

The J.B. Oxford lawsuit claims that in 1999 the company and its advertising agencies created a national print advertising campaign using a money character and spent more than $10 million to run it on network television, on cable, and in national newspapers and magazines. J.B. Oxford now "owns" the good will and trademark rights to the currency character and the slogan "Put Your Money to Work," the lawsuit says. It demands that First Tennessee, the lone defendant, stop running its working-money ads and pay unspecified damages.

In one of J.B. Oxford's print ads, a dollar punctured by a grinning human face eats pizza and loafs on a couch. The caption reads, "Ever wish your money would get to work?" Another loafing dollar bill parties with a crowd of girls at a bar. J.B. Oxford's campaign always used a $1 bill. First Tennessee's features bills of different denominations. Both campaigns use the expression "Put Your Money to Work."

A computer search of newspapers by the Flyer found 122 uses of the expression in various news stories, business advice columns, and even horoscopes in the last two years.

First Tennessee's working-money ads began running in 2001. "Money Men" dressed as paper currency toss souvenirs to spectators at Grizzlies and Redbirds games and star in a series of humorous print and television ads.

"I don't think it's any coincidence," said Jarratt. "Everyone in the U.S. had an opportunity to view these ads. There is absolutely no question it's identical. First Tennessee has known about this for a while and done nothing about it."

J.B. Oxford is a publicly traded company listed in The Wall Street Journal's Nasdaq small cap issues. Its headquarters is in Beverly Hills, and the company says it has branches in New York and Minneapolis. According to its most recent financial report, it had $14 million in revenues and $19 million in expenses in the first nine months of 2003 and has lost money for 10 straight quarters.

"We've had a tough couple of years here, but things are turning around," said Jarratt.

J.B. Oxford registered the copyright for its "loafing money" television and print ads on October 28, 2003, one month before the lawsuit was filed. The registration says the ads were created by a firm called Think New Ideas and a related firm called Answerthink. Think New Ideas was a publicly traded company that is now defunct. Answerthink is a publicly traded company offering a variety of business services.

J.B. Oxford's stock price soared to $197 in 1999 but is now just over $3. According to SEC filings and press accounts, the company was fined $2 million in a government securities investigation in 2000 and is seeking an extension on a $500,000 payment due as part of that settlement. This year it was targeted along with nine other brokerage firms by New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer for facilitating improper trading in mutual funds.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Campus Crime

      TBI findings show a decrease in sexual assault
    • Crosstown, Greensward, and U of M

      Crosstown open pushed back, money flows to Greensward project, and U of M board meets


News Blog

Alexander to TVA: Don't Buy Wind Power

Intermission Impossible

Hattiloo Announces Season 12: August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Soul Train...

News Blog

Memphis Theological Seminary Stands with Refugees

News Blog

Fight Over Forrest Statue Isn't Over

Fly On The Wall Blog

Remembering the "Miracle Child" Robert Raiford

Memphis Gaydar

Bathroom Bill Halted in TN Legislature

News Blog

RIP Robert Raiford

News Blog

Memphis Pets of the Week (March 23-29)


More by John Branston

  • Pyramid History 101

    Bass Pro should acknowledge the big pointy building’s backstory.
    • May 14, 2015
  • Let it Be

    What to do about the Fairgrounds? How about nothing?
    • Jan 29, 2015
  • Let’s Go, Shelby County Schools!

    Some suggestions for how the new Shelby County Schools system can hold its own in the years to come.
    • Aug 14, 2014
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation