louis vuitton wants you to stop talking about them

Jeremiah Owyang woke me up this morning (on Twitter) to a fascinating, instructive tale of a major brand getting drawn in to a major international crisis, against their will and to their detriment, and responding to it in a predictable, though shortsighted way.  Somewhere, a PR department is having a very bad Sunday.

Yes, I check Twitter before I get out of bed.

So what happened?

An artist created a T-shirt to raise awareness of the genocide in Durfur, and to vent some frustration at a media culture that gives more face-time to Paris Hilton than the victims of conflicts such as this one.

The T-shirt shows a victim of Darfur holding a Louis Vuitton-style luxury handbag in one arm, and a Paris Hilton-style toy dog in the other.  Jeremiah has a great recap of the whole story here.

So what happened next?

On a smaller scale, I woke up thinking who the heck is LV? and now, an hour later, I know exactly who LV is, and I know they’re knee-deep in a mess that wrong-foots them on an international issue on which practically everyone agrees, one that sets them up as a litigious Goliath, one that makes them appear anti-artist and anti-free-speech.

The plus side?

I am thinking about Louis Vuitton, and so are lots of other people.  I am NEVER thinking about Louis Vuitton.

That’s why the company’s reaction is so wrong here: sending the artist a Cease-and-Desist letter, and trying to make the issue go away through brute force.

Instead, they should take advantage of this rare opportunity — hundreds and thousands of people who on a daily basis couldn’t give a fig about your brand suddenly — briefly — do.

They have a very small window of opportunity to use this momentum to their own benefit, to the benefit of the victims in Darfur, to the benefit of the artist that started it all, and to the benefit of the artists in general.

Louis Vuitton can set an example, can be a brand who gets it right, by realizing that the spotlight is on them right now, whether they like it or not, and that they have the power to turn this into a PR opportunity, not a PR nightmare.

As I said in response to Jeremiah’s post:

…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.

Think this has nothing to do with nonprofits?

Don’t think that your nonprofit doesn’t have a brand, because it certainly does, and don’t fool yourself that a PR nightmare like this wouldn’t happen to that brand, because it certainly could.

Nonprofits need to think about brand management just like for-profit corporations do.  Perhaps even more so, because charities are often held to a higher standard, and ethical blemishes can be even harder for nonprofits to rinse out.

Do you still think Red Cross = Fiscal Mismanagement?

What about Smithsonian = Complete Chaos in Management?

Finally, remember that crises like the LV brandjacking above represents an opportunity for more than just the injured brand to do good — do you know a nonprofit organization that does work in Darfur?  Wouldn’t this be a good time to reach out to Louis Vuitton and see how you might be able to work together?


2 responses to “louis vuitton wants you to stop talking about them

  1. I know Jeremiah picked it, but ‘brandjacking’ seems like a really misleading word.

    Are we talking about something like phishing email messages, where the trustworthiness of a brand is hijacked for criminal gain? That sounds like hijacking a brand.

    Or are we talking about someone referencing a brand in a representation, like Tarantino having characters discuss Big Macs in a movie – or an artist drawing a picture of a product. I would call that almost anything other than brandjacking.

    The reason I care has less to do with the pejorative connotations of ‘brandjacking’ and more to do with the way the term gives organizations the impression that a brand is something they own, when they clearly don’t.

    An organization may own a trademark, but they don’t own a brand. Brands exist in the imaginations of other people. Brands can’t be ‘jacked’ or stolen. A brand is like a reputation. You don’t get to control it, other people do.

    All you can do is act the way you want to be seen.

    The problem for LV is we’ve seen the way they act: insecure, greedy and litigious.

  2. Any company that sells $800 handbags is going to be insecure, greedy, and litigious. (all their customers are)

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