MEMO TO URBAN OUTFITTERS: CAN SO MUCH BAD PRESS REALLY BE GOOD FOR YOUR BRAND?
When I was growing up it was common to hear people say, "Just make sure you spell my name right" or "There is no such thing as bad publicity". The theory behind this(I guess) is that name recognition trumps reputation.
This came to mind when I read about the latest Urban Outfitters brouhaha. The story has been widely reported over the last twenty-four hours.
The Navaho Indian nation is upset with Urban Outfitters because they are selling a "Navaho" line of clothing and accessories. The clothing includes women hipster panties and the accessories include a liquor flask. They have charged Urban Outfitters with violating their trademark rights in several Navaho designs. Separately, a Navaho woman wrote an open letter to Urban Outfitters suggesting that they may have also violated the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
I am not sure about the trademark merits. At a glance I suspect that there is no violation of the Arts and Crafts Act. However, Urban Outfitters must subscribe to the no such thing as bad publicity theory because they seem to always be embroiled in a controversy. Here is just a sample
In August, the parents of a 15-year-old model sued Urban Outfitters. They claimed that Urban Outfitters has used improperly suggestive images of their daughter on their products. Five months ago they settled a dispute with an independent jewelry designer who claimed that they stole one of her designs. Myley Cyrus weighed in on this and blasted them on Twitter.
Last year Urban Outfitters was involved in a dispute with an online T-shirt retailer. In 2008 they settled a lawsuit with the owner of the Danish Troll dolls. They prevailed against one of their competitors in a trademark lawsuit involving the TRUE PEOPLE brand. In 2009 they paid $25,000 to the owners of the legendary pine-tree- shaped air freshener trademark.
One of the facts of contemporary retailing is that your brand identity is not simply the story you tell folks, it’s what folks tell each other about you. Urban Outfitters latest dispute has fostered a “Boycott Urban Outfitters” discussion. A Boycott Urban Outfitters page was posted on Facebook after one of their previous disputes.
Perhaps name recognition still trumps reputation. But if I were a retailer I’d want my good reputation to be the basis on which my customers talked to each other about my company. Not the latest reason for folks to boycott.