02/05/2013 03:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Taco Bell Super Bowl Ad 2013: How The Company Used LAPD-Like Car And Didn't Get Sued (VIDEO)

That sure looked like a Los Angeles Police Department car during a Super Bowl ad: the black-and-white paint scheme, the iconic "protect and serve" slogan, the city seal on the door above the word "POLICE."

But the Taco Bell ad that aired during Sunday's first half didn't include an actual LAPD cruiser. The car was probably just far enough away to keep the fast-food company from getting sued.

Kevin Maiberger, the LAPD's entertainment and trademark coordinator, hadn't seen the ad until a Daily News reporter called Monday.

"I'm not a football fan, so I didn't see it," he said.

In the minute-long spot, set to a Spanish-language version of the song "We Are Young," elderly people sneak out of a retirement home for the evening to act like kids: stripping down to skivvies and sneaking into a pool, setting off firecrackers on a porch and dancing at a club. A woman makes out (or is it necks?) with a much younger guy, and an old man gets a tattoo.

Near the end, as the blissed-out seniors munch Taco Bell in a parking lot, a patrol car drives by and the officer in the passenger seat eyes the group suspiciously. The car is visible for a second at most.

After watching the ad, Maiberger explained the differences between the real and fake cars.

LAPD cars say "to protect and to serve," the department's motto since 1963. The Taco Bell police car says "to protect and serve," and the slogan is on the other side of the door.

The ad's car has the word "police" and the car number in a different font and color. The seal is too small to see clearly, but Maiberger said it's probably a lookalike, not the real city seal.

Such copying happens all the time to the LAPD, though not usually before an audience of 100 million at once.

"Entertainment companies do it; commercials do it," Maiberger said. "And the way they get around it is they modify it enough that it's not an actual infringement of the city's marks. And the city doesn't have enough resources to go after them."

He said there are 10 to 20 requests a week to use LAPD cars or insignia, most of which are denied. He said Taco Bell didn't ask permission. A spokeswoman for Irvine-based Taco Bell had no immediate comment Monday.

Maiberger said the department cooperates with some nonfiction programs, allowing the use of real LAPD cars in filmed re-enactments, for example, but only if there are written contracts and the city is paid.

Rather than pay, most commercial makers just have a prop designer make a knockoff of perhaps the nation's most recognizable police car.

"They understand that LAPD is the draw," Maiberger said.

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