Under trademark dilution law, a mark may become tarnished when it is "linked to products of shoddy quality, or is portrayed in an unwholesome or unsavory context."  The concern over tarnishment is that the public may begin to associate the original mark with the degraded quality or prestige depicted by the imitation.  If so, the value of the mark may be compromised, because the trademark owner cannot control consumer perceptions about the mark.

There need not be any confusion as to source in order for a potential lawsuit to arise out of tarnishment of another company's mark. For example, depictions of the Pillsbury Doughboy and Doughgirl in lewd positions was held to be tarnishment, even though there was no finding of confusion.  Pillsbury Co. v. Milky Way Prods., Inc., 215 U.S.P.Q. 124 (N.D. Ga. 1981).