The North Face could learn something from the rapper Jay-Z.
Back in 2004 someone calling himself Danger Mouse made an unauthorized mash-up album, combining lyrics and beats from Jay-Z’s The Black Album with background samples from The Beatles’ White Album. Recording industry giant EMI, who controls The Beatles’ work, flipped. I remember an interview with some corporate lawyer guy blathering about abominations, wanton disregard, the fullest extent of the law and capricious blahblah freakin’ blah. Then they interviewed Jay-Z, who – well, I’ll get to his reaction.
Anyway, a St. Louis teenager, Jimmy Winkelmann, recently started a small clothing company as a joke. He called it The South Butt, with the tagline, “Never Stop Relaxing” – playing off The North Face and their tagline, “Never Stop Exploring.” He’s got a funny little disclaimer on his website, ending with “If you are unable to discern the difference between a face and a butt, we encourage you to buy North Face products.”
Cute, worth at least a chuckle, harmless. The kid hasn’t done any damage, hurt our collective resources, endangered others, etc. But has he, somehow, damaged TNF’s image? I doubt it. TNF seems to be doing a fine job of that on their own.
The seven billion dollar company, owned by the mega VF Corporation, is suing the kid in court. C’mon, guys. Seriously?
Unlike the music example above, it’s not even clear that young “ignorance of the law is no excuse” Jimmy infringed on TNF’s rights – he has an original name, and a different, albeit somewhat similar (as if no such similarities exist elsewhere in the business world), logo. Besides, satire and parody are protected forms of free speech.
Not surprisingly, the tiny South Butt’s business has exploded since TNF unleashed the dogs.
“It’s pretty much just amazing, but it’s all thanks to The North Face, I mean, them suing me – well, first threatening me was, like, a huge gift, and then when they actually tried to take me to court it was, like, the best Christmas present ever, huhuh,” that dastardly Winkelmann kid said in a classic TV interview – check it out.
Even if TNF/VF’s high-powered law team succeeds, or they bury the kid in legal fees, why? Why turn a moderately challenging situation into a PR nightmare? The longer this continues, the more they make themselves look greedy, humorless, and out-of-touch, even bully-like. For a company with a great athlete team, a great history, and who donates to many good causes, I think they’re screwing-up on this one.
Surely they’ve got sharper minds on board than this, no? Maybe they could adopt a sense of humor and figure out a way to have some fun with it. Who knows, maybe some overzealous exec who’s never gotten off his, ahem, South Butt, is getting chewed-out right now for being too uptight and they’ll change course tomorrow and drop the case.
Better yet, they could turn it into something positive. Come out with a statement that sounds like a real person (don’t let anyone who wears a suit and tie write it) who’s coming to the realization that they’ve gotten a little off track and overreacted – we’ve all been there – and make amends, call off the Hounds of Hell, and donate what you’d spend in legal fees to some great cause. Heck, do it with the kid on-camera in a loving embrace with his parents (“Oh thank you, thank you, for not taking my parents’ home away from us!”), maybe some pretty flowers and some puppy dogs frolicking (just don’t mix-up the cages and accidentally unleash the Hounds).
Or simply be cool about it. Take a hint from Jay-Z, who appears to be wearing a TNF Snorkel Jacket in some of his older videos. When asked what he thought about Danger Mouse’s mash-ups of his raps with songs from the Beatles, his response was very un-EMI, un-TNF like. He replied, “I think it’s fly.”