But occasionally a company does something that hurts that image. Unfortunately, the North Face has fallen into such a trap. And this trap is big and public and dangerous for their image.
On December 14th, the Associated Press reported the following:
ST. LOUIS — The North Face Apparel Corp. is suing a small suburban St. Louis-area company called The South Butt and the teenager who started it. The lawsuit filed last week in federal court in St. Louis seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to prohibit The South Butt from marketing and selling its parody product line.
The North Face says it does not comment on pending litigation.
The South Butt's attorney, Albert Watkins, says the company was started by 18-year-old Jimmy Winkelmann to help pay for college. It puts out products with the tag line "Never Stop Relaxing," a parody of The North Face line, "Never Stop Exploring."
The parody company sells T-shirts, fleece jackets and sweatshirts on its Web site.
Okay, so let me get this right... The North Face is suing a teenager because his product is similar to theirs?
Somebody at the North Face headquarters must have missed the memo that that said this would be national news. Somebody else missed the memo that said that if you do this, the South Butt's sales will skyrocket (which has reportedly happened). And somebody else missed the memo that the company would be mocked for such a move by the very people that they are trying to sell their products to. Check out this forum and this forum and this forum. In addition to the forums, there are countless blogs that are bagging on the North Face for this move.
In recent years there have been some complaints about a loss of quality in some of the company's products. Whether these complaints are founded or not is beside the point. Ten years ago everybody in the mountains owned a North Face jacket. Now only a fraction of the people out there are wearing the clothes. Bad press and good social networking equals more bad press. It definitely brings the complainers out of the woodwork. And more complainers means more bad press which ultimately means less North Face jackets in the mountains.
It's understandable that the North Face might be concerned about some cheap rip-offs of their products. Last time I was in South America, I saw dozens of these for sale on the street. But those are intentional rip-offs which are trying to pretend like they are something that they're not. The South Butt is a parody. Nobody is going to mistake it for the North Face.
It's too bad that a company that has done so much good for our community has placed itself in such a negative position. In the eyes of many, the company has rebranded itself. It has rebranded itself as a Goliath.
In the biblical story of David and Goliath, David wins. I seriously doubt that the limited funds available to the South Butt will allow them to prevail in this case. But if the heart of this battle isn't litigation, but good press versus bad press, then the South Butt has already won...
--Jason D. Martin