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Popular 'Pub Sub' Social Media Accounts Go Silent After Publix Objects

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Fresh Take Florida
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A popular Twitter account that notified people when Publix chicken-tender subs were on sale has been abandoned after lawyers for the Florida-based grocery chain apparently objected.

The account “Are Publix Chicken Tender Subs On Sale?” – with nearly 40,000 followers – has been dormant since March 11. One of its final tweets noted that the subs were, indeed, on sale, and added ominously: “This may be our last Tweet.”

Since then, it stopped sharing updates altogether. An accompanying Facebook page also went silent.

It’s difficult to overstate the popularity of Publix chicken-tender subs, which consist of double hand-breaded chicken tenders with cheese and condiments on a doughy sub roll – which can approach a whopping 2,000 calories per sandwich. Entire discussion threads exist to debate exactly how to dress up the regional favorite sandwich.

A big clue about what happened: In another post, the Twitter account said it had received a cease-and-desist order from Publix objecting to a related text-message notification service. The account promised more details “later this week” but never shared more information.

Since then, dozens of hungry Twitter users have tweeted at the account asking where they went, whether everything was OK and earnestly asking what subs might be on sale.

Who’s behind the accounts? 

It’s Bryan Dickey, a 26-year-old University of Central Florida graduate and customer experience advocate at Postscript, a San Francisco-based text-messaging and marketing firm, according to his LinkedIn page. It identified him as founder and content creator of PubSub Creative LLC, which was described as a “niche digital community around Publix subs.”

It’s not clear whether such a limited liability corporation actually exists. A search of corporate registration records across the U.S. found no evidence of it, and it’s not listed among existing or former entities on file with the Florida Division of Corporations. Even Google found only a mention on Dickey’s LinkedIn page.

Dickey tweeted from his personal account earlier this month that Publix was objecting to a related text-message service he set up in January that allowed users to be notified about sub sales if they texted “PUBSUB” to a listed phone number. It wasn’t clear how Dickey was profiting from the service, but apparently that was too much for Publix. He said as early as January 2018 that he was making money off his Publix subs ventures, and last year said he had made more than $5,000.

“Publix is bullying me with C&D’s for the SMS VIP club. Haven’t talked about it publicly yet. Basically all paths to profitability are legal red taped for now, but I can keep the socials running.”

Dickey said in an email he was not ready to share details about what happened. Publix did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Neither Dickey nor Publix provided a copy of any cease-and-desist letter or letters.

The text-messaging service appears to be abandoned. The Facebook and Twitter account still exist but are not active. The Instagram page appears to be inactive or deleted.

Companies resort to cease-and-desist letters when trying to police unauthorized use of their trademarks, said Oliver Ruiz, a partner at Malloy and Malloy, a Miami-based law firm specializing in trademark, patent and copyright law. 

Otherwise, Ruiz said, an argument could be made in the future that a company abandoned its rights to trademark by letting other entities use its brand and recognition without quality control.

“(Publix) would argue that if there's something wrong, if the Twitter account makes a mistake, or if they maybe make a post that is controversial, for example, that that would reflect poorly on Publix if consumers think that there's a connection,” Ruiz said. “And they would argue that could harm their reputation and their goodwill associated with their brand.”

In this case, with social media accounts promoting a Publix product, such cases can be especially challenging, he said. “You’re going after somebody who's creating a lot of attention for you and, obviously, promoting the subs.”

Ruiz does not represent Publix or Dickey and said lawyers in trademark and copyright cases typically represent clients on all sides of such disputes.

It’s not clear whether the fight is over, such as whether Publix might pursue Dickey in court.

“It'll be interesting to see how this plays out,” Ruiz said, “and whether Publix makes the decision to take additional steps.”

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at kwood@freshtakeflorida.com.