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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Never Stop Litigating

I just had to laugh when I heard the North Face was suing an upstart company in the Midwest that calls itself the South Butt and sells clothing with parody logos and slogans ("Never Stop Relaxing"). A very similar scenario unfolded about a decade ago when I was running Rock & Ice.

The old Franklin Climbing company had been running a series of full-page ads featuring portraits of interesting climbers posing against a white backdrop. The ads were simple and sharp, and we liked having them in the mag. In early 1999, the company sent us a particularly funny one: a photo of a baby boy sitting on the floor and peering into the front side of his diaper, with the tiny tagline "Never Stop Explorin.' " We thought it was harmless and cute, and if we thought about it at all (which I doubt), we expected the North Face would laugh along.

Uh-uh. Shortly after the ad appeared, I had to take a call from the company's CEO—the CEO, for cripe's sake—who said he was suing Franklin and that we'd better stop running that ad immediately or he'd sue us too. I groveled a bit (hey, we needed the North Face's advertising money more than we needed a freedom-of-speech case), and the problem went away. The Franklins' problems with TNF eased, too, although probably not as quickly.

This time, though, the legal action may have backfired for TNF. In the age of viral information, the North Face just looks like a bully, and the South Butt had more than 4,400 fans on its Facebook page this morning. They're undoubtedly selling loads more clothes than they ever expected, though I doubt they were prepared for the onslaught of orders.

I also doubt the South Butt will be in business for long. The Franklin incident seemed ridiculous to everyone but TNF, but in this instance I'd say the North Face actually has a very strong case—I mean, South Butt is trying to sell its clothes primarily by trashing the TNF brand. That's not right. But for the North Face, will winning in court mean losing with the public? 


Anonymous said...

We used to call TNF something else: Totally Non Functional. And I was sponsored by them!


Dru said...

What about the Hey Fuck Face logo that has been around for the last decade or so?

Like this one

alaskaiceclimbing said...

Hilarious! TNF should appreciate the fact that people still care enough about their clothing to make a silly knock off.

Devin Montgomery said...

There's no likelihood of confusion, this is surely an allowable parody... But I think the purpose of the suit is to intimidate them out of using it, not to actually win the suit.

Anonymous said...

I have one of those Hey *uck Face stickers on my shovel....have always loved that logo!

Sout Butt Fan said...

indeed TNF may not have such a strong case, as anyone can tell the difference between a face, and a butt!

Chris Simmons said...

Issued clothes that had gotten trashed by the end of the season in the US Antarctic Program often got a "The South Face" logo added in permanent marker. Think TNF will want to take on the National Science Foundation?

Le Pistoir said...

Did "Life is Good" sue "Life is Crap" just for being so annoyingly rainy on their It's-All-Good parade?