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“Impossible” and “Incredible” do not mean the same thing—do they?

Illustration for article titled “Impossible” and “Incredible” do not mean the same thing—do they?
Photo: DAVID MCNEW/AFP (Getty Images)

Impossible Foods, a company founded in 2011, makes all manner of plant-based fake meat and supplies it to restaurants and grocery stores. One of its products is the Impossible Burger, an item that it plans to begin selling in Europe for the first time this year. Nestlé, a multinational food conglomerate founded in 1866, has been selling its own plant-based beef product, the Incredible Burger, throughout Europe since early 2019. This week, the District Court in The Hague ruled in favor of Impossible Foods in a case claiming that the Incredible Burger is an infringement of the Impossible Burger trademark. Does this dispute strike anyone else as some extreme younger sibling energy?

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CNN Business explains: “The court said the words ‘impossible’ and ‘incredible’ sound and appear similar, and the overlap could confuse customers.” I get that these two words might be additionally confusing if English is not one’s first language, but the two words don’t even use the same negative prefix, and most everyone understands the difference in how each term is defined. Impossible is what you say to refute the reality of something—in this case, the idea that this realistic plant-based meat isn’t actually meat. (“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”, etc.) Incredible carries a similar definition (too extraordinary to be believed), but its modern usage, especially in marketing, overwhelmingly tends toward its secondary definition of something that’s simply “amazing” or “extraordinary.” I’m sure I’m not treading new ground here; it can only be assumed that lawyers unsuccessfully made these same arguments to The Hague. Still, I’m steamed! Steamed on behalf of language!

“We are disappointed by this provisional ruling as it is our belief that anyone should be able to use descriptive terms such as ‘incredible’ that explain the qualities of a product,” Nestlé said in a statement. “We will of course abide by this decision, but in parallel, we will file an appeal.”

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For now, Nestlé has four weeks to withdraw its line of Incredible products from retailers or face a €25,000 fine for each day the fake meat remains on shelves. The company plans to rebrand its European “meat” patties as Sensational Burgers. Interestingly, CNN Business notes that the product is called Awesome Burger in the U.S. Why not just go with that? Maybe “awesome” has different connotations in other languages. Or maybe The Hague has decided it sounds too close to, I dunno....Peugeot?

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

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Marnie, you already used that same stock lead image on Tuesday, which was doubly confusing for me because I thought you also used it to report on this story that day, but it turned out I got that conflated with Gizmodo reporting on this story on Monday.

Remember when The Venture Bros. had a character named Professor Impossible who was part of a parody story of the Fantastic Four, and 2 months later Disney Pixar had a character named Mr. Incredible who was part of a parody story of the Fantastic Four?

I guess Nestle remembered.

The stupidest thing about this is that “Impossible Burger” and “Beyond Meat” suggest to the consumer that they’re not meat, while “Incredible Burger” and any other needless superlative they choose absolutely doesn’t. Great job, giant corporation.