Louis Vuitton gets Brand-Jacked, Collateral Damage in Anti-Genocide Campaign

Left Image: An impoverished Darfur child is shown holding an LV-like purse, image sold as a T-shirt from artist, now being sued, see Hi-Res version.

Thanks to Søren Storm Hansen for bringing this to my attention.

It could have been your brand
It could have been Rolex, Lexus, Gucci, or even your brand, sadly for LV, it was theirs.

A 26 year old artist named Nadia Plesner has been sued by Louis Vuitton for brand jacking their famous purses in a anti-genocide campaign.

The artist was trying to make a point that the media cares more for Paris Hilton extravaganza’s more than the genocide in the nation of Darfur.

Nadia states her intentions for the grass roots campaign:

“My illustration Simple Living is an idea inspired by the medias constant cover of completely meaningless things.

My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designerbags and small ugly dogs appearantly is enough to get you on a magasine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs attention.

When we’re presented with the same images in the media over and over again, we might start to believe that they’re important.

As I was reading the book ”Not on our watch” by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast this summer, I felt horrified by the fact that even with the genocide and other ongoing atrocities in Darfur, Paris Hilton was the one getting all the attention. Is it possible that show business have outruled common sense?

If you can’t beat them, join them. This is why I have chosen to mix the cruel reality with showbiz elements in my drawing.”

LV: “Cease and Desist”

Luxury brands certainly have teams of brand police within Marketing to ensure their products aren’t being misplaced or improperly positioned, and have taken action by first sending a cease and desist letter (notice they “applaud the efforts) PDF.

Nadia: “Free Speech”

Nadia then sent a return note, stating this was her ability to self-express and claimed the logo was not referring to LV in particular (PDF).

LV files lawsuit
The letter was not met well, and LV has now filled suit against Nadia, claiming damages of over $20,000 a day, each day the campaign is continued.

The Groundswell begins
Since then the Darfur has grown in awareness, having now been on Digg, a Facebook group formed, spread in the news, and hundreds of blogs pointing to her site.

LV has two a few options

Here’s my take, from what I can tell, Louis Vuitton (and the dog) have nothing to do with Darfur, and their brand is being dragged through the African mud. Their response is pretty standard and expected, to protect the image and brand that they’ve been working to build. I’m sympathetic to them getting brand jacked, as they’ve not done anything to occur this unwanted attention.

Option 1: Continue legal path: Continue this path and settle with Nadia, given the many lawyers they have access to and resources, they will likely win a copyright infringement for the design being on another paid product.

Option 2: Join the campaign: They could drop the suit, and work with the Save Dafur organization to help raise funds by doing events, creating a specific product, or help promote the cause. This too has it’s downsides, the brand will be brought into the human rights spotlight, and if they have any dirt in this arena (perhaps oversees manufacturing) they’ll be in turn scrutinized. Secondly, this would be a nod to activitists everywhere to brand jack major brands in order to get support –and funding, the cycle will continue.

Option 3: Redirect focus on issues: Submitted by John Bell. I enjoyed John’s option so much, that I’ve embedded it here on the post as an update. “What they could do is work with Nadia and other artists to host discussions about media focus. They could partner with a neutral party like my friends at ifocos.org to steward the conversation. Keep the discussion away from luxury brands (which is not Nadia’s point anyhow). LV can become part of teh solution without taking on the brunt of an issue they do not own.”

Option 4: Walk away: Submitted by Alison Byrne Fields: “Drop the suit. Walk away and wait for the dust to settle. This little hullabaloo will have no long term negative impact on their brand.”

I’m weighing both options here for LV, there’s really not a great way out of it for them. I believe they are collateral damage, having done no wrong to invoke this groundswell, yet this is a nod to what could easily happen to other brands.

I asked my Twitter community to voice their opinion, on the topic, here’s what was said in public

ronbailey: – why not just donate a few bucks to the cause in exchange for her NOT using LV products in her campaign?

Dan Lewis: legalities aside, I’d be mighty upset if my name were wrongly associated with genocide. the artist is morally wrong here, no doubt

Alberto Nardelli: besides LV point being morally disturbing, IP case doesn’t stand: would be like campbells suing warhol

Kim Pearson: I’m a former PR person, not a lawyer, but I’d argue that LV is doing itself more harm by its response, not protecting its brand.

Ed Saipetch: ironically in the same vain, I heard the (RED) campaign benefits retailers and product producers much much more than the AIDS fight

Rainne: I say not, b/c the artist did not use the vuitton pattern, she simply invoked its similarity.

mlogan: They turned this into a big story and managed to put themselves on the wrong side of a humanitarian crisis. Smooth

bethdunn: it’s another case of a company doing more harm than good to their brand by trying to halt something they can’t control

ronbailey: how has LV been harmed by Nadia’s campaign? – She was poking fun at celebrity culture in general, not LV in particular

ronbailey: They could have easily turned a blind eye to the whole episode.

Ok, you weigh in, If you were the CMO, what should LV do?

  • alice rees

    Hmm, so if LV was to join the campaign, this “would be a nod to activitists everywhere to brand jack major brands in order to get support –and funding, the cycle will continue”? Would that be such a bad thing? Would it kill corporates such as LV to grow a social conscience, or is CSR just not quite luxe enough for their target market?

    A quick act of brushing-under-the-rug will do more damage to the brand image of LV than an act of positively associating themselves as supporters of the fight against misdirected media scrutiny. With the world becoming increasingly smaller, crises such as that faced by Darfur need to be acknowledged before we all end up portrayed as emaciated figures on t-shirts. From a marketing perspective, this has all the makings of a striking campaign. In reaction to counterfeiting, LV constructed shoots and promotions in which their luxury products were displayed against a backdrop of corrugated iron and cardboard, the handbags piled up as if in the back alley of a seedy counterfeiting district. Consumers are savvy enough not to associate LV with the evils of piracy, why should the same not apply here? The CMO should align with luxury brands that target similiar markets or use similiar strategies and together they should embrace a massive campaign that highlights the distorted focus of the media and redirects it onto the crisis in Darfur. As a high fashion brand, LV needs to become aware that social conscience is the new “it” thing,use that to its advantage and maybe do some good in the process. Nadia Piesner should garb her next Darfur victim in a fetching Burberry scarf.

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  • Nikolaj Nielsen

    ” Option 2: … This too has it’s downsides, the brand will be brought into the human rights spotlight, and if they have any dirt in this arena (perhaps oversees manufacturing) they’ll be in turn scrutinized. ”

    – and that is bad… why, exactly? C’mon, if they have that kind of dirt they _should_ be scrutinized. Of course. Naturally. That goes without saying.

  • Louis Vuitton gets Brand-Jacked, Collateral Damage in Anti-Genocide Campaign This entry was written by Brad Bell, posted on May 21, 2008 at 1:05 pm, filed under Charity Marketing. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Test Your Donation Landing Pages

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  • I think there are some interesting points here, but I wonder how this will all play out in the next few weeks…???

  • george

    A brother and sister who operated a retail store on the Santee Alley bargain strip in the Fashion District of Downtown say they were falsely accused of dealing in counterfeit merchandise and forced out of business by “malicious prosecution” pressed by representative of the Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior fashion labels.

    George and Marijeanne Antounian recently filed a lawsuit against the two Paris, France-based
    luxury brand giants and their attorneys. The Antounians claim that a prior suit that the companies filed against them was itself unlawful.

    A federal court eventally dismissed the lawsuit against the Antounians and awarded them approximately $70,000 in lawyer’s fees. That covered about half of what they spent on legal representation in fighting the case, according to a lawyer representing them in their suit against the luxury brands.

    The Antounians are seeking unspecified damages from the companies in a malicious prosecution suit alleging that representatives of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, and their respective lawyers, knew that allegations of copyright and trademark infringement against them were not true but nevertheless continued with the litigation.

    The cost of the defending against the charges eventually forced the Antounian’s to close their Bijou Palace shop on the 1100 block of Santee Alley, according to the couple, who claim they were also forced to liquidate their inventory, a process that typically involves selling off merchandise at very low prices.

    The Antounian’s malicious prosecution lawsuit claims that representatives of the two giant luxury labels hired a private investigation company called Investigative Consultants in 2005 to determine whether stores on Santee Alley were selling counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior wallets, purses, and other goods. An investigation of nearly two years led to the firm to wrongfully conclude that the Antounians had sold fake Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior products, according to the lawsuit. The Antounians claim that a video used in the investigation showed such counterfeit transactions occurring at adjacent stores and on the pathway of Santee Alley itself, but not at Bijou Palace.

    “The Antounians’ store sold only costume jewelry and was not in the business of selling purses and wallets,” said Sean Macias, managing partner of Macias Counsel, Inc. in Glendale, and the lead attorney representing the Antounians.

    William Salle, co-counsel for the Antounians, said that a member of the investigation team, Arianna Ortiz, admitted she provided false testimony in identifying Bijou Palace as one of the stores selling knockoff products.

    “Ortiz alerted Kris Buckner, president of Investigative Consultants, and lead counsel Janine Garguilo for Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, of the errors in the investigation reports months before trial, but legal action still proceeded against the Antounians,” according to Salle.

    The Antouians lawsuit also alleges that during a trial on accusations against them, in July 2007, Buckner testified that he never saw handbags, wallets, or sunglasses—or any Louis Vuitton or Christian Dior items—for sale at Bijou Palace.

    “These were the same items that the Antounians and Bijou Palace were to have allegedly sold,” said Salle.

    Macias said that efforts to combat counterfeiting of merchandise are understandable, but contended that his clients were wrongly caught up in the efforts.

    “Maybe they wanted to send a message to would-be counterfeiters that they mean business,” Macias said. “Instead, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior succeeded only in destroying an innocent small business.”

    Representatives of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior could not be reached for comment, as of presstime
    (Antounians v. Louis Vuitton et al, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC396340).

  • george, thanks, do you have some URLs to share that point to this?

  • GOOD

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  • hellen


  • You can't unring that bell, I'm afraid.

    LV needs to take the high ground and get engaged in the issue, not try and cram it back into a box by way of a C&D.

    They should ask: in what way is this damaging to our brand? (because it certainly is) And work to counter that with new activity:

    Damage: LV is associated with the genocide in Darfur.
    Response: Make that association a positive one, as a force for good. Become known as the brand that does the most to stop the genocide. Do whatever can be done quickly to turn this around: announce today that tomorrow all proceeds from LV bags will go to an appropriate charity, for instance.

    Damage: LV is associated with the irresponsible media and celebrity culture.
    Response: See John Bell, above.

    Sadly, now there's more, as a result of the company's own actions.

    Damage: LV is anti-artist, anti-free speech, litigious.
    Response: Run a campaign that asks artists to create new designs and patterns for LV bags, choose several, make them into limited editions, and contribute a portion of the proceeds to artist scholarships — preferably new ones, branded something like “The LV Young/Emerging Artist Scholarship” at one or more prestigious schools of art and design.

    Honestly, it makes me crazy when brands do this sort of thing. Here they have an opportunity: suddenly this Sunday morning hundreds/thousands of people who hadn't given their brand a second thought are talking and typing and wondering how to spell “Vuitton,” and all they can say is “Stop talking about us?”

    This is exactly the moment when they need to use the momentum to advance their brand, not cause further damage.

    They can't cram the genie back into the bottle, but they might still get three wishes, if they try really hard.

  • wow! the shirt looks creepy! 😀

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  • Your article is very informative. I agree with all the points that you written here. I must say that the article is written clearly and direct to the point. It also express your thoughts about the issue. Hope you write more articles like this in your blog.

  • Appahest

    Today, an article was published regading the fact that a Dutch court has sentenced Nadia tp pay 200000 euros to LV. And they still want more.

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