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.



You haven’t been riveted by the world altering events now labeled as The Arab Spring? You do not have a clue about what’s going on with the European debt crisis?

Then you MUST know about the dispute between an 11-year-old girl named Willa and America’s largest consumer goods company Procter & Gamble.  Willa’s mom, a wealthy, smart and savvy woman, worked for several years to create a line  of skin care products, lip balms and hair care products for tween girls. She named this line of products WILLA.  

This upset someone at P&G. Because P&G sells WELLA branded shampoo. P&G made their usual assumption that every (real or imagined) competitor wanted to trade on their goodwill. So they challenged Willa and her mom. Expecting them to do the sensible thing, and give up their name.

But  Willa and her mom did not give up Willa’s name. They took the offensive against P&G and decisively won the public relations battle.

Now the case has settled.  The settlement has been noted in the New York Times. At a glance Willa seems to have won.  Willa can use her name on skin care products and a lip balm.

But when Willa filed one of her federal trademark applications she expressed her intention to use the term WILLA on a hair conditioner and a shampoo. Does Willa still have the right to use her name on these products? Were these products really important  to Willa’s marketing plans?

I don’t know. So we can all watch with interest to see what Willa really does with her name
Unless we get distracted by a worldwide financial meltdown.