No, logo stickers aren’t awesome Jason 14 Nov 2005

101 comments Latest by August

Jason Kottke is blogging his trip to Hong Kong. In an entry about having dim sum with a few girls writing an article on blogging, he mentions:

A favorite conversational tidbit was that when you buy fake electronics in Hong Kong, they ask you which logo you want on it (Sony, Panasonic, NEC, etc.) and then affix the proper sticker. Awesome.

Tongue-in-cheek or not, there’s nothing awesome about IP/brand theft. On the surface it’s funny for a second, but that’s where the humor and awesomeness end. When it becomes ok to steal someone’s brand, copy someone’s product, or blatantly rip off someone else’s design for your profit, well, we’re all in trouble. I guess we’re in trouble already, but saying it’s awesome only fuels a fire that needs to be put out.

Do we consider identity theft awesome? I hope not, but brand theft is no different than identity theft. It’s taking another company’s identity and using it for your own benefit or profit. So, instead of signing up for a credit card under someone else’s name, you are using someone else’s corporate identity to sell and market products on their back. While individuals feel the impact of identity theft to a greater degree than a corporation might feel the impact of someone using their logo/brand without permission, it’s still just as wrong.

You know, everyone wants corporations to be more like people — more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment, etc. Yet we’re not as quick to treat corporations like people. We want to see what we can to do scam them. We want to see what we can do to take advantage of them. We call it awesome when people take their brands or their IP. Respect is a two-way street.

101 comments (comments are closed)

Richard Bird 14 Nov 05

Just this morning, I heard a news report on WABC New York radio. One of the top issues our Government is currently addressing with China is the matter of intellectual properties.

It is estimated that 90% (!) of all software, movies and other “soft” IP’s sold in China are pirated.

Elliott 14 Nov 05

The seller in Hong Kong didnt try and sell a “sony” TV.

He sold a TV. and the customer chose for it to be a “sony”

Its different, im my opinion.

Darrel 14 Nov 05

Do we consider identity theft awesome? I hope not, but brand theft is no different than identity theft.

I’d say it’s quite different. Someone steels your identity, you’re likely going to go broke or involved in legal wranglings for years.

I slap a SONY sticker on my Chinese TV…SONY is…uh…well…huh…doesn’t seem to effect SONY at all.

Ironically, Sony putting computer Viruses on their CDs would seem to do more damage to their brand than someone slapping a sticker on a box.

It is estimated that 90% (!) of all software, movies and other “soft” IP’s sold in China are pirated.

I wish I remembered who it was specifically, but one of the EFF folks was talking about the movie industry in India that has actually adapted their business models to survive even amongst widespread piracy.

Which makes you wonder whey in the US, where we have fairly decent IP laws that the **AA can’t even adpot ever so slightly to changing consumer enviornments.

Jeff Croft 14 Nov 05

I dunno about anyone else, but when I read Kottke’s post I certainly didn’t get the impression that he was endorsing it. I think he was simply amused by the absurdity of it.

miller 14 Nov 05

I think that “awesome” was somewhat tongue in cheek.

Fintan 14 Nov 05

I agree with Jeff, miller - you need some chill out time, Jason.

Jonathan Holst 14 Nov 05

I agree with Elliott… As long as you’re not selling it as a “Sony TV” it’s not theft.

What I think it shows instead, is the vanity we have. “I just bought a new [no-name] TV… Let’s call it a Sony!”. This is an error in the modern human being, that I find concerning.

If the seller had marketed the tv as being ‘Brand new 42” Sony TV’, then we were talking IP-theft. This is just stupid.

Steven M 14 Nov 05

Actually, I completely agree with Jason.

It is wrong. What would happen if someone who was interested in buying a new Sony TV comes over your house, see’s your Sony and then see’s that maybe the quality or something isn’t quite that good (being that it’s probably a cheap TV), Sony starts to lose customers.

Want a Sony TV? Buy a Sony TV. Otherwise, if you’re willing to spend less money on a poorer quality television then obviously you do not care about the branding on it.

Alex Bunardzic 14 Nov 05

You’ve failed to see the irony of it. What those guys who elect to slap a ‘Sony’, ‘Panasonic’ etc. label on their p.o.s. electronic purchase are doing is saying: “It’s all the same shit; only I’m paying a fraction of a price for it, while pretending is the ‘good’ brand.”

Corporations who had been cheating consumers and lying to them since times immemorial do deserve a little bit of a subversive counter-attack. I’m not going to cry crocodile tears over some minor damage to someone’s corporate ‘reputation’.

Darrel 14 Nov 05

It is wrong. What would happen if someone who was interested in buying a new Sony TV comes over your house, see’s your Sony and then see’s that maybe the quality or something isn’t quite that good (being that it’s probably a cheap TV), Sony starts to lose customers.

Consumers aren’t stupid.

marc 14 Nov 05

some bloggers use a technique called “irony”.

Anon 14 Nov 05

Even if the people aren’t originally selling it as “Sony”, what’s to stop their customers from turning around and doing so?

Not to mention what Steve M. has already stated.

Jamie Tibbetts 14 Nov 05

I dunno about anyone else, but when I read Kottke’s post I certainly didn’t get the impression that he was endorsing it. I think he was simply amused by the absurdity of it.

Ditto, Jeff.

Danny Cohen 14 Nov 05

By the way, I really like how you are continuing a point from another blog, in such that it is a continual story line that is hoping from point to point and to the bathroom i must go

Anonymous Coward 14 Nov 05

Corporations who had been cheating consumers and lying to them since times immemorial

How has Sony, for example, cheated and lied to you? And since you aren’t honest 100% of the time I suppose it’s you “deserve a little bit of a subversive counter-attack” as well.

matt 14 Nov 05

If the generic seller/re-labeler was, hypothetically, selling some component that literally was the exact component sold by each of the companies whose logos he was willing to put on the product, does that make the entire thing wrong in a lesser or just different way?

Matt 14 Nov 05

There are obvious expceptions to every generalization, but I don’t think this is a big deal at all. If a Chinese company can create genuine brand confusion by simply adding a sticker, what does that say about the brand? To me, it tells me you don’t have a brand that can be eroded.

For a brand to have meaning, it must offer/provide something substantial. If a chinese firm can take a $5 t-shirt, add an silkscreened Armani logo, and end up with a product that’s easily mistaken for a $50 Armani T-shirt, that just tell’s me that Armani’s brand is crap, as is really just snobbery, marketing, and bs.

You couldn’t create genuine brand confusion with stickers when the brand offers stellar customer service, or some other form of unique value.

chris sivori 14 Nov 05

From a consumer’s perspective, it might be awesome. Not everyone has the same concerns as business owners. Also, in the context of Kottke’s story, it was awesome. It’s awesome that there’s a country where this exists even if many people find it wrong.

matt 14 Nov 05

Shorter version of my last point - if your brand stands for something that can’t be reproduced with a 5-cent sticker, you don’t have to worry

Erin 14 Nov 05

I agree with Jeff Croft. I think Kottke was simply remarking on the obviousness and outlandishness of the copyright infringement.

I think you’re taking his post a little too seriously, my man.

Darrel 14 Nov 05

How has Sony, for example, cheated and lied to you?

Well, not necessarily lying, but let’s start with them putting viruses on our computers. Not the most ethical way to treat customers. ;o)

Not everyone has the same concerns as business owners.

Interesting perspective. And valid.


J 14 Nov 05

It’s dishonest. You are right to dis-approve. Not least, for the practical reason, that if we muddy the waters, the totalitarians get stronger and we have DRM.

Slow Motion Quick Thinking 14 Nov 05

This research done by the US seems to coincide with China being in the news as the world’s next economic superpower.
Maybe that is not such a coincidence?

China is usually considered (in the west) to have a copy-cat economy, but that’s also because a lot of our western labor, and therefore a lot of know-how was outsourced ($).

Studies imply that China and other countries will soon have independant economies, with their own demand and their own products, that won’t lean on the west.

Europe and the US feel threatened of course.

On a holiday in Greece I saw a T-shirt that had a nike logo on the front and an Adidas logo on the back.
Still wish I had bought that.

Jens 14 Nov 05

When did this blog turn into a sunday school? Jason, U really should get your butt out of that nice rebranded Volkswagen of yours and smell a bit of economic reality. Do you really think anyone living off street-ware really care about “design” and “identity”?

ramanan 14 Nov 05

Your anger here seems misplaced. What Jason describes, and what you are bitching about, are two different things. Cheap Chinese televisions are being sold as cheap Chinese televisions. The people selling the cheap TVs aren’t leveraging Sony/Panasonic/Toshiba’s marketing or branding when they are selling their goods. They are relying on the fact people will pay a smaller sum for a mediocre TV.

Also, Matt’s comment is right on: if your brand stands for something that can’t be reproduced with a 5-cent sticker, you don’t have to worry.

Paul McCartney 14 Nov 05

We named our dog Elton John because my wife is a big Elton John fan. I am wondering now if we should change his name because we are stealing Elton John’s brand. I don’t want others to get confused into thinking our dog is THE Elton John.

By the way, did you think I was THE Paul McCartney just because you saw my name there? I’m not. Somehow I think most people knew that.

Paul D 14 Nov 05

I agree with Elliot, Darrel, and so on. The customer choosing a brand sticker is not “brand theft” (ooh, nasty sounding phrase), and it’s silly to get hot and bothered over.

Don Wilson 14 Nov 05

Selling the stickers is brand theft. Letting a customer choose his poison is unrelated.

Josh Williams 14 Nov 05

Consumers aren’t stupid.

You haven’t met my family. They’d never have a clue whether or not a “stickered” product was legit or fake.

Ted 14 Nov 05

what a waste of time and attention

Colin 14 Nov 05

+10 for Paul McCartney. Listening to his music, I never thought he’d be so funny.

Everyone wants corporations to act more like people, but few to none of them do. Sony installing viruses on the PCs of their legitimate customers while not realistically being able to do a thing to deter pirates is a perfect example.

In Thailand, I saw jeans 100% indistiguishable from [insert real brand here] selling for $5. What does that tell you about how much the jeans are really worth? The rest of that $150 price tag goes to convincing me to buy them, not on making them better.

Christophe 14 Nov 05

The funny thing is that a lot of Sony products (ever heard of Sony Playstation for example ?) is manufactured in China. So I will not be surprised if a “no-brand” TV made in China were more or less the same that a “Sony” TV…

Do not forget that now the value of a brand is not “what they are making” but “how they promote it”.

Jim 14 Nov 05

Yeah, i really think Jason was just joking. A little irony can be good.

Ben Adida 14 Nov 05

Jason’s post is a serious overreaction that shows the dangers of interpreting these intellectual property issues too strictly.

The seller did not say the TV was a Sony, he didn’t even imply the TV was a Sony. In fact it’s made explicitly and abundantly clear that the TV isn’t a Sony. In the worst case, there’s trademark infringement on selling the sticker, but I doubt Jason were worried about something so insignificant.

As for the point made in the comments that a guest coming into your home might see the sticker and be misled into thinking that Sony makes poor TVs… wow that’s scary reasoning. Are you saying trademark law should extend into what I do in the privacy of my own home?

Don’t forget that every intellectual property grant is a restriction on free speech. Of course, there are very valid intellectual property grants. (It would be totally wrong for the seller to claim that the TV is Sony when it isn’t.) It’s just that you should make sure to measure these grants against the rights you lose.

Scott 14 Nov 05

Chill out Jason, and find something better to write about.

Mike Sanders 14 Nov 05

There seems to be two points here, what was Kottke’s reaction to the brand theft and what is our personal reaction to brand theft.

Let’s give Kottke the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume he’s not a fan of brand theft. It does seem clear that many of the commentors to this post have no problem with some form of illegal brand theft.

I think Jason’s clear point is how can we ask for more honesty from corporations, when we are not willing to be honest ourselves. That seems to me to be a pretty good question.

Mike M 14 Nov 05

Are you guys trying to tell me that the Civic in front of me during rush-hour this morning wasn’t actually made by Nike?

Geoff 14 Nov 05

1) I agree that faking a brand with a new sticker isn’t “awesome”.

2) I agree that the word “awesome” was used sarcastically (though I did detect a hint of delight in the outrageousness of it all…)

3) I completely disagree that “faking” a brand with a sticker is on the same level of immorality as identity theft on a personal level. Stealing an individual’s identity is far, far more insidious.

JF 14 Nov 05

I think Jason’s clear point is how can we ask for more honesty from corporations, when we are not willing to be honest ourselves. That seems to me to be a pretty good question.

Yes, that was a major point. Thanks for noticing.

Richard 14 Nov 05

Just for the Record:

Apple actually provides Apple-Stickers with their equipment so the consumer can put them on his non-apple hardware. :)

William Gaus 14 Nov 05

Either way the brand is weakend. You are putting a sticker of ‘Sony’ on something that isn’t. You might know it’s not Sony but who is to say that TV doesnt change hands down the road into unsuspecting hands. Companies spend millions on branding, the last thing they need is this.

Anonymous Coward 14 Nov 05

Apple actually provides Apple-Stickers with their equipment so the consumer can put them on his non-apple hardware.

Yeah, on their cars. Since Apple doesn’t make cars I think that’s OK.

benny 14 Nov 05

Well, I put an Apple sticker on my work Dell computer =) I hope the branding police don’t bust me down for my IT-confusing-brand-irony.

Sean Devine 14 Nov 05

Kottke’s “awesome” line was a great quote. A little irony is fun, not an attack on IP protection.

Anonymous 14 Nov 05

Well, I put an Apple sticker on my work Dell computer =) I hope the branding police don’t bust me down for my IT-confusing-brand-irony.

yeah but your “Apple” computer is going to confused the bejesus out of the next user who inherits your pc. shame on you

Sam 14 Nov 05

Corporations are not people. So they shouldn’t be treated like people and we shouldn’t have the same types of expectations of them.

Its fine to ask corporations to be “more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment”. We can ask the same of government and other institutions. But this doesn’t mean that they’re actually people deserving of the same treatement that we give to our fellow man.

How awesome is it that some corporations are busy adding 1000s of pieces of our genetic code to their IP portofolios? Or that corporations see fit to patent anything and everything on the chance they will see some future return when someone actually puts the idea to good use.

Caleb Buxton 14 Nov 05

I don’t think the initiative for respect is on the consumer.

Although legally a half-win — in many other ways the McLibel case was a victory.

Jason, what is your opinion concerning the McLibel case? Or how about the indignities Jon Stewart lobs at brands and corporations?

How has Sony, Panasonic or NEC demonstrated respect to me?

What is the difference to Sony between putting a Sony sticker on a non-Sony product and removing a Sony emblem from a Sony product?

Tom Werner 14 Nov 05

During a visit to China this past summer, I had a chance to visit the famed “Silk Market” in Beijing. This is a building of several floors jam packed with small booths carrying a wide variety of clothing and accessories. Many of the vendors carried coats with North Face or Columbia logos embroidered onto them, which at first glance appear to be the real deal, but if you look closely at the stitching and overall quality, you can see that it is nowhere that of a real North Face or Columbia coat. In this sense (more so than slapping a sticker on a product during purchase), the manufacturers of these items are using a brand’s reputation to sell their wares.

While probably not heavily impacting the sales of North Face and Columbia merchandise in the US, it’s still angering when someone profits from your hard work and dedication by marauding as your product. It’s no different, really, than someone stealing your site design and changing out the logo with their own. They’ve now benefitted from all the hard work you put into the design without having to expend any effort themselves.

random reader 14 Nov 05

dude, you’re a fool for taking that much time to respond to a comment you were too dense to understand.

are you one of those people that find comedians funny until they comment on something you’re hypersensitive about?

trimsart 14 Nov 05

Treating companies like individuals is one of the biggest problems with the US. It’s corrupted our government and it distorts markets.

You know, everyone wants corporations to be more like people — more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment, etc. Yet we’re not as quick to treat corporations like people.

We don’t want corporations to be more responsible, honest, or respectful because we want them to be like people, we want them to do those things because our government gives them the charter that lets them operate and if they aren’t serving society that charter should be revoked!

The people won’t really be able to run their own country until corporations are back in their founder-intended role as servants of society, rather than vice versa.

JF 14 Nov 05

How has Sony, Panasonic or NEC demonstrated respect to me?

By providing you with a good product that does what it says and by providing a manufacturers warranty to fix any problems that do occur in a given time frame.

Alex Bunardzic 14 Nov 05

The problem seems to be in the mis-perception that corporations are what makes the world go round.

There was a time when corporations didn’t exist, yet the world kept merrily turning.

Today, we’re supposed to believe the advertising that’s telling us how, without the blessings of our beloved corporations, we’d be totally and utterly screwed.

For some reason, I’m not really buying into that particular brand of fairy tale. As far as I can tell, corporations exist for one reason only — to increase the profits of their shareholders.

Now, just because someone’s profit may have gotten increased, I don’t see any correlation with how would that improve the overall quality of our lives. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t even have any need for McDonald’s burgers, or for a can of Coke, thank you very much. I firmly believe I can survive without these products and services.

But the original post was more about the brand awareness. Tell you what — if someone can slap a BMW sticker onto KIA or Hyundai and sell it for $80,000, more power to them!

Tim 14 Nov 05

So it’s “brand theft” for me to purchase a Ford and then slap a BMW nameplate on it? I’m sure you would agree that a brand is a lot more than a decal. Furthermore, am I not within my rights to put any sticker I please onto a product I’ve purchased? Shall we outlaw Apple window decals? What about this guitar case?

Though I agree that selling a product with misleading brand markings is unethical (because it misleads the consumer), I see no problem with aftermarket sticker affixation — which is in fact what the article described.

Don Wilson 14 Nov 05

So it’s “brand theft” for me to purchase a Ford and then slap a BMW nameplate on it?

Is the Ford dealership selling you the BMW nameplate? The act of selling the product in anothers name is in question, not rather you put another logo on a product after buying it.

Reinier 14 Nov 05

So, althoughe you don’t believe in the promises of the real product, you encourage people showing off with fake brand products??

Garrick Van Buren 14 Nov 05

Seems to me the stickered company is getting free advertising at the expense of the pos electronics company. This is the same question as knock-offs - the knock-off still promote the original brand, or they wouldn’t be purchased.

Why is it bad? People that purchase knock-offs wouldn’t buy the original anyway. If anything it promotes the original brand while forcing them to continually innovate. Neither are bad outcomes.


Richard 14 Nov 05

Some folks are concerned with the status of a brand: they want white earbuds whether or not there’s an iPod on the end of them and some folks are concerned with what the brand has come to mean in terms of quality: Sony makes trinitron TVs, they like the picture, they buy sony. These folks might buy off brand Trinitron TVs if they existed. They like the technology, not the brand necessarily.

Brand can grow to mean something and then get decoupled from the meaning by people who want to display a logo for status and are willing to have that logo on anything.

I read the Kottke piece this morning and thought that he might be commenting about the fact that in his scenario, this whole process has been made more efficient for the folks who only care about status. I didn’t take it as him endorsing brand theft. As others have said this is better than building the TV with the sony ID on it.

Rabbit 14 Nov 05

Caleb Buxton, Sam and Trimsart are all on the money.

As I said before, corporations are legally people. And, as someone else said, they often act as people sometimes do: selfishly and destructively.

How interesting…

I love this place, but Jason, your defending these companies as providing good products and good services is a battle you cannot win.

Fact is, most large companies don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves (and even that’s questionable!).

Stop for a moment and think about the actual cost of something… not the cost in terms of dollars, but in terms of our earth. The raw materials taken to build something, plus the materials and energy required to power the machinery necessary to perform that construction.

“A pen is not a pen. It’s plastic, paint, metal, etc. These things come from different areas of the world and require a certain amount of energy to extract.” (Very loosely quoted from The Corporation)

If we were charged for an item based on the price the earth paid, I imagine most would go without.

Darrel 14 Nov 05

Seems to me the stickered company is getting free advertising at the expense of the pos electronics company.

That’s certainly one way to look at it. Would Versace be as brand-ware amongst the masses if it weren’t also for the knock-offs? Does somone buying a knock-off Versace hurt Versace’s bottom line? I would hazard a guess that there are two markets…the ‘real’ versace customers and the knock-off Versace customers, with the only simliarity being the name they are buying. Otherwise, they are two different markets.

Perhaps Versace should get into the knock-off business themselves. Hmm…

Richard brings up a good point too…the ‘status’ buyer vs. the ‘quality of product’ buyer. Again, these are often likely two entirely different markets that overlap minimally.

warren 14 Nov 05

Corporations aren’t people, god dammit.

Ben Finney 14 Nov 05

You know, everyone wants corporations to be more like people — more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment, etc. Yet we’re not as quick to treat corporations like people.

You’re confusing motivations here. We don’t want corporations to be more like people. We want people to be themselves, and stop hiding behind corporations.

The corporations themselves are *not* people, and when we treat them as if they’re the same as people, we get the disconnect of “brand identity”, corporation with protected free speech, and other madness.

Spike 14 Nov 05

“How has Sony, Panasonic or NEC demonstrated respect to me?

By providing you with a good product that does what it says and by providing a manufacturers warranty to fix any problems that do occur in a given time frame.”

I pay for that. I’m not arguing one side or the other, but I pay for my product and the warantee comes with the cost. It isn’t as if they are doing me a great deal — if they didn’t offer what is considered standard, they would be unable to compete in the marketplace. Its all about the money.

burninator 14 Nov 05

Don’t we put our logos on the basecamp log in page?

Boris 14 Nov 05

Oh please. An oath of feodality to the corporate overlords please! You have got to be joking me. Are you so brand-loyal as to be like sheep who gladly bow before their new king before being slaughtered? Slaves you be.

yes, it is all about the money. they get it all and you get nothing but a TV.
I remember there used to be TV repairmen.. local businesses. Wiped out. Corporations do not give a rats ass about you or your life, or your satisfaction, only your money, which they consider theirs to begin with. Wake up.

Steven M 14 Nov 05

Are you guys complete idiots?

If you are so mad at these big corporations for “lying and cheating” you then WHY would you put their stickers on anyway?

And the basecamp comment is irrelevant completely, wow.

JF 14 Nov 05

JF 14 Nov 05

yes, it is all about the money. they get it all and you get nothing but a TV

Yeah that’s because you paid for it. It’s called BUYING SOMETHING. When you buy something you give a company/person money and they give you a good or service.

I can’t believe I’m explaining this!

DSiv 14 Nov 05

You know, everyone wants corporations to be more like people — more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment, etc. Yet we’re not as quick to treat corporations like people.

I’d be happy if the worst crime of most large corporations was the occasional instance of IP or trademark infringement. Instead they commit fraud and theft on the scale of millions or even billions of dollars, flout environmental laws, and blatantly disregard the well being of the public at large. And that’s just in the US; the actions of large corporations in the developing world are even worse.

I know that some corporations are corrupt and some are honest, just as some people are corrupt and others are honest. The big difference is that society for some reason seems ostrascizes corrupt people and rationalizes corrupt corporations. Arguing that corporate malfeasance is anywhere near the same ballpark as slapping a Sony sticker on a TV is a perfect example of this.

Darrel 14 Nov 05

Corporations are legally like people…except they don’t have to go to jail and can weasel their way out of blatant offenses much easier that you and I.

If I run out of money because of huge medical costs, I can’t even declare bankruptcy anymore thanks to our new laws.

If NWA runs out of money because of huge medical costs, they get to dump their promised pensions to their employees, fire their union employee, and restructure.

Clark 14 Nov 05

Lighten up!

John 14 Nov 05

I think there’s a difference between “fake electronics” where there is no pretense about the fakeness/cheapness of the object (“Apply whatever sticker you want, we don’t care, it’s fake and you know it”) and “counterfeit electronics” where a seller is trying to trade on a brand’s name/image in order to deceive consumers and sell their objects as a “brand x” object.

I can see getting upset about the latter but not the former.

The “we need to treat corporations like people” and “respect is a two way street” comment guaranteed this discussion would be derailed immediately…

Bill Preachuk 14 Nov 05

Interesting social experiment. I find it funny to see so many people tapdancing.

It always comes down to 2 questions:
1. Where do people draw their moral line in the sand?
2. When do they move their line?

I applaud you for not moving your line - and for calling people to task because they’ve moved theirs.

Mark John B. 14 Nov 05

I don’t think slapping a logo sticker to any device is trying to steal that brand; i think most people who want the sticker, wants it for aesthetic purposes. And those who buy the “no-brand” devices, already know that those are not “sony’s” or “panasonic’s”.

I will try to take some pictures around here (Philippines), on how these logo “stickers” are being used on public transports (not that it’s condone by the government). They slap almost every logo they can get on, purely for decoration purposes. :)

August 14 Nov 05

Who says I’ve moved my line?

One thing about large corporations that I’ve always been interested in is public space. When a corporation buys space on a billboard, what are they buying? Well, what they are actually buying is the right, for a limited time, to use a certain patch of property, or a wall, or a rooftop, right? Wrong. What they are in fact doing is buying temporary influence over a certain amount of public space, something that is held in trust and not for sale, or not supposed to be for sale. A billboard or similar advertisement doesn’t just occupy the space it is physically attached to, it broadcasts is message into public space. What happens if you or I were to stand on a street corner and broadcast our own message? Well, unless it’s something far more innocuous than a billboard (like handing out flyers), we’re probably going to get asked to stop by someone in authority (those of you not living in enormous cities probably also don’t realize that a tremendous number of small communities rip down flyers on telephone polls, etc). The message this sends is fairly simple: if it has money, your private company can have control over what messages can be promoted in publicly-owned space. Does that mean it’s still publicly owned? Is that the sort of behaviour that merits respect?

Also: By providing you with a good product that does what it says and by providing a manufacturers warranty to fix any problems that do occur in a given time frame.

The Sony/Panasonic/NEC you deal with must be totally different corporations than the ones I’ve dealt with. I’ve worked for a number of large firms in my time (Wal-Mart, Shell, and one right now that I can’t name who makes high-end electronics) and I can tell you that if you think for one instant anything like respect/fair dealing is considered when the consumer is the subject for discussion, you’re out of your f*cking mind. The closest they come to respect is “how much can I get away with before we get caught?” and “even if we do get caught, what are the legal/financial risks vs. the tangible benefits?”

filchyboy 14 Nov 05

individual identity != corporate identity

abr 14 Nov 05

Somewhat off-topic, but I for one am glad to see people disagree with the 37s crew, especially as this whole site (as has been mentioned many a time before in previous threads) has gone straight downwards from what it used to be!

As for the “brand theft” issue — come on! First of all (and I’m sure Jason understood this), the Kottke remark was ironic; secondly, selling a product to someone and asking them what label they want isn’t (also something others have pointed out) brand theft, as you’re not claiming that it actually _is_ Sony or what-have-you!

Eric G 14 Nov 05

Jason F’s real issue is that Jason K quit his job to blog, asked folks for donations, and now he’s dim summing it up in HK

Maxine 15 Nov 05

I know this is a bit of a religious war, but, I think the safest assumption for all of us is that corporations are not people. Corporations are legal constructions created by people. As such, people get to define what rights and responsibilities corporations have.

So, yes, people ask that corporations be responsible, honest, respectful of the environment (and people for that matter), but they actually don’t have to give them one iota in return.

I know it’s off-topic, but I just get very nervous when I hear corporations being given “rights” in the same way that humans have “rights”.

To get back on-topic, by and large I agree with you Jason: Kottke’s comment, insofar as it wasn’t ironic, was pretty silly. I mean he’s basically affirming the undermining of the very notion of property. I just don’t think that’s something to be done lightly.

Having said that, imagine a world where the notion of brand had been completely destroyed by people doing things like this with abandon. People like Sony would actually have to prove themselves by being the providers of the finest quality equipment at that price, rather than the providers of the Sony brand.

Lar 15 Nov 05

I suppose it depends on the use or misuse of the word ‘awesome’. Perhaps the writer meant awe inspiring rather than the Britney Spears slang ‘Gee, like, that’s like so awesome’. Maybe if them folk in America learnt to speak proper we’d no wot was being talkeded about.

Anonymous 15 Nov 05

“You need some chill out time, Jason.”

I agree strongly with that statement. I don’t disagree that piracy is a big problem, but leading into your topic by personally attacking someone who was making an observation of the absurdity of the practice is not a way to case the “goodwill meter” to rise.

jean zaque 15 Nov 05

1) Kottke: I read that post the other day and I didn’t think at all that he was being ironic; which doesn’t mean he was being earnest - he was just responding to something he’d seen in another country. Of course, only he can say.

But maybe someone could email and ask him, no?

2) Jason: ” … everyone wants corporations to be more like people … Yet we’re not as quick to treat corporations like people.”

That’s because they’re not people - they’re corporations. And I don’t want them to be “more like people” because a lot of people aren’t responsible or honest or respectful of the environment - they’re just assholes.

I’d like corporations to be more like responsible corporations. When *that* happens, let’s talk about that two-way street. In the great showdown over ethics, I’ll take logo stickers slapped on white label gadgets over Enron screwing its employees.

RiceRocketRacer 15 Nov 05

The one thing I’ve not seen mentioned is that the whole sticker/brand thing is a peculiarity of certain subset of asian culture. It’s most obvious to us crackers in it’s application with respect to automobiles. Specifically, what they not so enlightenly call (in downtown San Francisco) the rice rocket.

The drivers of these vehicles, they put “go faster stripes”, and meaningless spoilers on thier cars as well as a plethora of stickers advertising the makers of all kinds of car parts, AFK, Koenig, Eurolite, etc. And then there’s my favorite, the “R Type” sticker on the Hyundai. “R Type” is a specific model of Acura Integra which has (historically) been very popular among the street racing/tuner crowd. It beats the pants off of any Hyundai out there, or any of the other cars which can be found with an R Type sticker on them.

(I have a point)

It may be worth considering the possibility that IP infringement is not the primary activity going on. Everyone (everyone who cares, that is) knows that there’s no such thing as an R Type Hyundai. I’m going to guess that the people putting the SONY stickers on their knockoff CD players aren’t fooling anyone either. It’s not about branding, it’s about identification and dreams. I dream that one day my Elantra can compete with an R Type Integra. And the guy that buys the knockoff dreams that he can one day afford the Sony.

Jocke 15 Nov 05

Excellent post! I like the thing about respecting companies as you respect people.

As far as the ethical question goes, I dont see why some of you are sliding on this. You simply cannot take my company logo (or anyone else’s) and stick it on another product.

Jake 15 Nov 05

Rebranding between companies happens all the time. Toyota Matrix = Pontiac Vibe. Samsung both makes electronics for other companies and rebrands stuff from other companies. Dell Latitude X1 = Samsung Q30. OWC Mercury Drive = Macpower Igloo. Matias Tactile Pro keyboard = Kensington Studioboard Mechanical = Strong Man keyboard. Lets face it, buying brand name is usually just paying for fancy advertising. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Darrel 15 Nov 05

You simply cannot take my company logo (or anyone else’s) and stick it on another product.

Sure I can. It’s not hard. Just print it out, a bit of glue…

Jemaleddin 15 Nov 05

Please add me to the list of people who think this blog has officially jumped the shark.

DaveMo 15 Nov 05

I haven’t read Kottke’s post that is the basis for this discussion, so I won’t speculate on what the intention was of his “awesome” statement, but I agree with Jake above and was going to make a similar post until I saw his.

“Re-badging” as it is called in the automotive industry, is everywhere. Ford Explorer pickup trucks are Mazda pickup trucks, Mercury Villager minivan is a Nissan minivan, etc. Inter-company re-branding happens all the time, so perhaps whatever that Chinese vendor was selling was indeed a Sony or Panasonic product that just hadn’t had the appropriate sticker put on it yet. So what occurred was that the vendor simply did the job that someone in the manufacture’s plant would have done anyway, right? A simple and seemingly innocent occurrence.

But there’s where the big ethical difference is in the whole transaction. The moment that sticker went on the item, it became a Sony or Panasonic product and they were denied their profits from the elevated status and price that item then commanded. Whether you feel that Sony or Panasonic is evil for earning that extra profit or not isn’t really the point. It’s a free market and they have a right to charge whatever consumers are willing to pay for their product, if they want or must have a Sony or Panasonic brand thingy instead of the same lower-priced off-brand thingy. If the consumer wants to pay more for the branded product due to ignorance or status or just brand loyalty, then there is nothing wrong with that and the company is perfectly in its right to do so.

So just as Toyota charges more for the Matrix than Pontiac charges for the same car because of its name or brand, then so can Sony or Panasonic charge more for their product even though it is just some cheap manufactured no-name brand underneath.

If it was me, I wouldn’t have any sticker put on the damn thing because I don’t give fig what brand it was ultimately. I just need a thingy, I want it to work, and I don’t want to pay more than I have to for it.

I vote with my pocket book and if Sony has the item I want at the price I wish to pay then I’ll buy the Sony, otherwise I do without. Confronted with several thingies from several different apparent brands, then I’ll might chose to do my research and buy the one that is the best value for the price. If it turns out to be a lower priced Pontiac Vibe instead of a higher priced Toyota Matrix then I am an informed and educated consumer and have made a wise choice.

If I have some ethical issues with a manufacturer or brand, then I just do my best not to buy their product or use their service. But I won’t buy something else, put the offending brand sticker on it and then smugly declare my righteous superiority on having pulled one over on them. How petty and stupid is that?

ramanan 15 Nov 05

The moment that sticker went on the item, it became a Sony or Panasonic product and they were denied their profits from the elevated status and price that item then commanded.

That is simply not true. You’re assuming that if the person couldn’t get the generic TV with a Sony sticker, they would go and get a Sony TV, and not just stick with the generic TV sans-sticker. My guess is people buying these televisions want a cheap TV. They are never going to get a Sony, unless the Sony was cheaper.

Also, most people calling this post stupid are doing so on the grounds it is arguing against something Kottke wasn’t even discussing: When it becomes ok to steal someone’s brand, copy someone’s product, or blatantly rip off someone else’s design for your profit, well, we’re all in trouble. That seems reasonable. You shouldn’t be able to copy someone for your own gain, and there are laws against that in most countries. However, that isn’t being done by these generic electronics companies in HK. They sell cheap crap TVs. Period. A sticker doesn’t make a TV a Sony. The word Sony doesn’t make something a Sony. The brand is more than a word or a sticker.

Darrel 15 Nov 05

The moment that sticker went on the item, it became a Sony or Panasonic product and they were denied their profits from the elevated status and price that item then commanded.

What are you? An RIAA Lawyer?

Steven M 15 Nov 05

I can’t believe 37signals has these bunches of idiots visiting their website… what a dumbass audience.

“Re-badging” as it is called in the automotive industry, is everywhere. Ford Explorer pickup trucks are Mazda pickup trucks, Mercury Villager minivan is a Nissan minivan, etc. Inter-company re-branding happens all the time, so perhaps whatever that Chinese vendor was selling was indeed a Sony or Panasonic product that just hadn’t had the appropriate sticker put on it yet. So what occurred was that the vendor simply did the job that someone in the manufacture’s plant would have done anyway, right? A simple and seemingly innocent occurrence.

Are you kidding me? So these TV’s are a model from let’s say Panasonic just don’t have the sticker on them yet? And by the way, Ford owns Mercury and Mazda and the Explorer, so you make no sense whatsoever. That whole argument is ridiculously.

Darrel, you are unethical and ridiculous. Just stop posting and go spend your time doing something else, please. I love posting on these comments and you’re making troublesome for people who have someting to add.

undees 15 Nov 05

Okay, so respect is a two-way street. And passing off one brand as another is wrong.

BUT:

1) Big corporations like Sony have a loooooooong way to go down their side of the two-way street toward respect and all those other lovey-dovey values. Individuals, to my knowledge, aren’t actively burning down Sony factories and breaking into directors’ houses. And that’s about the level of corporate responsibility Sony is showing right now. Let Sony relax its chokehold on artistic innovation, quit putting backdoors on customers’ PCs, and so forth, and _then_ we can talk about comparatively minor sins like putting a Sony sticker on a non-Sony television.

2) On the issue of selling the same television and simply putting different stickers on it: that’s exactly what happens at the factory in a lot of industries. A minivan rolls off the line in this direction and gets a Plymouth sticker on the front; in that direction, it gets a Toyota sticker, or whatever. If I bought minivan A and plastered logos from minivan B on it, would that still be evil?

3) Diluting a corporation’s brand is not as severe a crime as identity theft. The equivalent to identity theft would be masquerading as a director and completely emptying the corporate coffers into an offshore account in the Caymans. Slapping a Sony sticker on the “wrong” television is still wrong, but it’s more akin to reading your neighbor’s newspaper and then stuffing it back into the plastic bag before he wakes up.

undees 15 Nov 05

To clarify:

Individuals, to my knowledge, aren’t actively burning down Sony factories and breaking into directors’ houses. And that’s about the level of corporate responsibility Sony is showing right now.

Not suggesting that Sony is burning anything down — the sense of that sentence was supposed to be that Sony’s level of concern for its customers seems to be at the level of “not actively setting their houses on fire,” but not much better than that.

DaveMo 15 Nov 05

Darrell:

No, I’m not. But I play one on TV! ;^þ

Steven M:

However, I don’t believe Ford owns Nissan and their Mercury Villager was the same van as Nissan’s. (They may however own major stock in Nissan) They also license Toyota’s Hybrid technology for their line of Hybrid trucks and cars as well, but you won’t hear them mention that in their adds. They make it sound like it’s their tech under the hood.

For the longest time, TV cathode ray tubes were manufactured by just a small handful of companies. So no matter what brand of TV you bought the chances are that the guts were exactly the same as the other brand next to it on the store shelf. You could dig around and possibly find out which manufacturers used the same components, but mostly you went by brand or, if you were smart and did your homework, checked with Consumer Reports and bought a unit that was indicated to be a good value depending on your needs and price range.

So, yeah, given that brands like Sony or Panasonic tend to use huge contacted manufacturers in places like China I suppose that the TVs that Kottke saw could very well have been either a Sony or Panasonic or whatever brand without the appropriate sticker.

Ramanan:

“My guess is people buying these televisions want a cheap TV. They are never going to get a Sony, unless the Sony was cheaper.”

Yes! That’s my point, exactly! That’s the only reason I’d buy the thing. Like I said, I don’t give a fig about the brand. I just want a cheap TV. And you’re 100% correct putting a Sony sticker on a piece of crap TV doesn’t make it a true Sony. Of course I think that the people who bought crap TVs and elected to put a premium brand sticker on KNOW they bought crap and wouldn’t blame the premium brand for the poor quality. But they want it to LOOK like they bought the premium brand to their friends and family that might not know they difference – or they plan to re-sell it as a premium brand to some ignorant dupe.

I guess it’s a bit like buying a fake or “replica” Rolex or something. The folks who would buy a fake or “replica” anything can’t afford the real thing but feel the IMAGE of owning the real thing is more important than just being able to tell the time, because God knows those bogus Rolexes probably don’t work for dick.

But as far as the legal and ethical part of it goes, if it has Sony’s name on it then they deserve some of the profit from that sale because of that. It’s like someone selling stuff with “Ramanan” plastered on it that wasn’t yours and not giving you a cut and even worse when it turned out to be crap people who bought it thinking it was yours and saying “Damn that Ramanan! His stuff is crap!”

pwb 15 Nov 05

You simply cannot take my company logo (or anyone else’s) and stick it on another product.

Of course they *can*. And I don’t really see a big problem with it. People put all kinds of different stickers on all their stuff. it’s really not that big a deal. It’s not like the store is offering it as a Sony. I have an Apple sticker on my Dell. BFD.

Darrel 15 Nov 05

Darrel, you are unethical and ridiculous. Just stop posting and go spend your time doing something else, please. I love posting on these comments and you’re making troublesome for people who have someting to add.

Sorry for ‘making troublesome’.

August 16 Nov 05

I work for a large electronics firm (which I will not name), and I deal with lcd panels a lot.

Do you know how many manufacturers of lcd panels there are in the world? Six.

Do you know what the difference is between all those brands of lcd monitors you have to choose from? The sticker somebody slapped on it.