On Tuesday night, my Facebook account lit up with friends and colleagues weighing in on the debate over who owns Bongo’s Bingo.

But let’s backtrack a bit. What even is Bongo’s Bingo?

To the uninitiated, Bongo’s Bingo is like a night at the bingo, with a wicked twist. Or as one commentator put it, ‘Like Mecca on a mad one’. Hosted by ‘Jonny Bongo’ (but of course), it’s like a combination between traditional bingo and a rave, with a bit of stand-up comedy thrown in.

Who owns Bongo’s Bingo?

With me so far? Well, what started as a student night in 2015 in Liverpool’s Camp and Furnace (although that’s debated, with many claiming it started in the basement of The Shipping Forecast) soon exploded in popularity, taking the show to venues nationwide. Bongo’s Bingo has even been played in Dubai and Australia, earning Jonny Bongo (aka Jonny Lacey) something of a cult celebrity status.

Fast-forward to May 2019, and a row erupts when Camp and Furnace release tickets for its own ‘Bongo’s Bingo’ events in August. These are unconnected to the creator Jonny Bongo (Lacey) and the Shua Ltd parent company, which is based in the former Cains Brewery, just next door to Camp and Furnace.

Unsurprisingly, the team behind the original Bongo’s Bingo threatened legal action against Camp and Furnace and promised to “vigorously protect our Bongo’s brand”. In retaliation, Camp and Furnace posted their own statement, claiming that in fact it was they that had “invented, developed and financed” Bongo’s Bingo.

Who owns Bongo's Bingo?

The importance of trademarks

Surprisingly, an application to trademark the term ‘Bongo’s Bingo’ was only made by Shua Ltd in March 2019, which makes us wonder whether someone at Shua Ltd had heard rumblings of Camp and Furnace setting up their own rival events. It’s unclear why Shua Ltd left the Bongo’s Bingo name unprotected for four years, but a key lesson for businesses to take away from this is to protect their valuable brand as early as possible by applying for a trademark.

Whether or not Camp and Furnace have a legitimate claim to the Bongo’s Bingo brand is largely irrelevant at this point, as they have already been judged harshly by the court of popular opinion.

Managing the message

Camp and Furnace have had a sobering lesson in the importance of checking the pulse of the audience before posting on social media. It’s unclear what will happen with these rival events or if they will continue to be called ‘Bongo’s Bingo’ (at the time of writing, the venue are still advertising tickets on their website). It’s been an ugly, unpleasant situation to watch, and something that could have been so easily avoided if both parties had taken appropriate steps to protect their brands and manage the message.

What are your thoughts about ‘Bongo-gate’? Or would you like to have a chat about branding or communications? Get in touch with us and it could be ‘you and me’ for a ‘cup of tea’.