When Louisiana State University was considering a proposal to allow Jell-O to use its school image on a mold kit, there was no mention of whether the product would ever be used for alcohol.
The mold kit, called Jell-O Jigglers, came out in August, just ahead of tailgating season, and was instantly associated with jello shots -- the concoction, popular among college students, in which 3 ounces of vodka are mixed into a small serving of gelatin.
But 58 pages of emails dating back to January, obtained by The Huffington Post, show Louisiana State University officials discussing the specifics of a deal to license its logo and name for Kraft Jell-O Jigglers, and never mentioning the alcohol aspect until a Wall Street Journal columnist reached out in early August.
The same appears to be true at the University of Florida, where school administrators were pitched the product with an emphasis on the potential royalties, not how the product would be perceived. If there was ever any thought about Jell-O Jigglers being viewed as perfect for jello shots, it wasn't written down.
UF administrators were told the school stood to make a 12 percent royalty on the Jell-O molds with a $10,000 minimum royalty guarantee to licensing. That remained the final deal in the contract signed in April and May by the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), an IMG Company that represents nearly 200 colleges and universities for trademark deals.
The terms of what the university stands to make were revealed in a copy of the contract with Kraft Foods for the Jell-O Jigglers, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to UF, which is represented by CLC. Other schools under the Jigglers contract with CLC include Florida State University, the University of Georgia, the University of Michigan, the University of Tennessee, the University of Texas and the University of California, Los Angeles. The Huffington Post also submitted a request for this contract to the University of Arkansas, but the school denied the request, asserting that the state's FOIA law only applied to Arkansas citizens.
The contract with Kraft, currently in effect, allots a minimum royalty of $144,000 to CLC. Meanwhile, each participating school gets a 12 percent royalty based on a wholesale price of $0.81 per mold, with each kit containing two molds. At a minimum, the universities each collect $10,000, but they can make more depending on how well the Jell-O Jigglers sell.
The contract gives universities the right to approve any marketing associated with products bearing their name. In theory, this is the part of the contract where a school could assert that it does not want its products associated with alcohol. But there is nothing in the document to that effect.
It appears there was no concern on the universities' part about Jello-O Jigglers being associated with jello shots until late this summer, when reporters started asking questions of schools like UF and LSU, following the appearance of an AdAge article noting that the molds "seem to be the perfect delivery vehicle for Jell-O shots."
As the fall semester began, about a month after everything was settled on the Jigglers, The Wall Street Journal, Inside Higher Ed and Vocativ, as well as some local news outlets, came knocking with questions. Each media inquiry asked about the connection between products like the Jell-O Jigglers and booze. Some went further and asked about beer pong accessories branded with school logos. In September, an email between UF officials noted that CLC had advised its client universities that many schools were being hit with negative articles linking the Jell-O Jiggler Molds with jello shots.
A similar cautionary note went out among officials at LSU.
"Instead of responding with 'no comment' I think we should not respond at all," wrote Brian Hommel, director of trademark licensing at LSU, to university communications officers. "The writer is going to try to drag LSU into an article that is clearly going to link the product to alcohol even though there is no link. You all are the media experts so I'll defer to you on this."
"They're clearly trying to skew the conversation to make it about alcohol when the product is a food item consumed by the vast majority of people without alcohol," Hommel added.
Some university officials were quickly reminded of the Bud Light "fan can" fiasco of 2009, when universities cried foul at Budweiser selling beer cans with colors similar to those of certain universities. Back then, CLC-represented schools objected to Budweiser's use of the color schemes, calling it inappropriate given the schools' efforts to combat underage drinking -- though observers suggested the schools were actually upset because they weren't getting a cut of the profits.
"I recall when Budweiser wanted to brand beer cans we declined," Janine Sikes, a spokeswoman for UF, wrote in an email to colleagues.
In August, UF ultimately decided to issue the following press statement: "Two years ago, the University Athletic Association entered into an agreement with a company that has been producing family desserts since 1846. We hope Florida fans enjoy their Jello desserts with family and friends."
In particular, UF officials deliberated about the tailgating table. In internal emails, one official cited a manufacturer's description of the item that notes "the table has a built in handle and folds in half for easy storage. The legs lock in place when the table is folded. The table would wholesale for $40. Wild Sales indicates pending orders with Target and The Sports Authority."
"As you can see, 'beer pong' is not listed among the suggested items of use," Mary Howard, associate athletics director at UF, said in an email to Sikes and others.
Officials at UF and LSU did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.
Andrew Giangola, vice president of strategic communications for IMG College, the division of IMG that brokers many of these trademark deals, declined to discuss how his company has advised client universities about dealing with media inquiries related to these products. But he did offer a comment, similar to those given by client schools of IMG, regarding the Jell-O Jigglers product that many students and alumni are using for alcohol consumption.
"Jell-O is an iconic American brand that's been in the cupboards of millions of Americans for decades," Giangola said. "The product is marketed in the grocery store aisle, and is in no way whatsoever promoted or sold with any connection to alcohol. Universities are happy with Jell-O's support of their programs, and we are thrilled with a partnership with Kraft allowing fans to show their school spirit and colors in a fun way."