Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but spoofing a brand can result in a lawsuit.
The North Face has filed suit in St. Louis accusing a teenager of piracy because he was marketing a line of clothing under the brand name The South Butt. The defendant is arguing that his (not profitable) endeavor falls under the protections of satire.
Many of the world’s most prominent brands are satirized in similar fashion on a regular basis, often by substituting irreverent language within the brand’s trademark colors and logos. Ford, for example, becomes “Fart.” Pizza Hut becomes “Pimp Hut.” And McDonald’s gets branded as “Marijuana.”[more]
Legal or not, the question remains, does being mocked really hurt a brand? Clearly not all cases are the same. One could argue that the satirical Perez Hilton is now more famous than the original Paris Hilton — and who could forget the cease and desist order issued to Perez by Page Six for his original title, Page Six Six Six. And note to Coco Chanel: Perez Hilton has a new site, CocoPerez.
In most cases, these parodies are harmless. The Coca-Cola and McDonald’s brands are certainly not losing business over their respective (many) satires. The North Face case, however, may be different as the brand is not a global heavyweight. But the brand does have every right to protect itself.
Now The North Face needs to determine exactly what is, and isn’t, a threat to its brand. Otherwise it may end up being the butt of South Butt’s joke.