Jack Willy, Jack Wills and what to do when passing off is all in the name of charity

It is no secret to this blog – and to pretty much anyone that knows me – that I am a long-time, ardent fan of Jack Wills.

So this evening, when I started to pick up tweets about Jack Willy for the first time – a brand new charity initiative in support of prostate cancer awareness – I initially thought, bravo JW for having enough gumption and banter around their own brand values to create a tongue-in-cheek charity campaign.

Or so I thought.

Jakc Willy homepage

After a bit of digging on the site it became apparent that they are ‘BTW, NOT Jack Wills‘ and are instead playing on the renowned middle class clothing brand’s wide appeal. And, in for a penny, in for a pound, the site invokes JW’s look, feel, font, tag-line (‘outfitters for the general’ – rather than gentry), image/model look style and web design.

They’re hot on Twitter, they engage with their posse of fans on Facebook – they even run an ‘Ambassador‘ program whereby enthusiastic consumers of their clothing can earn themselves free stash by being photographed in the gear and posting their shots back to the brand. Any of this sounding familiar?

Now whether you’re a fan of the original brand or not, this led me to thinking: as a brand manager or owner, what would I do? I’m in charge of a hugely successful, internationally expanding, young, influential fashion label and a charity initiative sets up for a very worthy cause, riding on the coat tails of my brand’s image (and poking a little fun in its ribs at the same time). How do I feel about this? What are my options?

I figure they are, namely, these:

1) Do nothing

2) Do nothing – yet. Ride it out. It’s a start-up so wait and see what kind of following it gets (and what comments you get as a result) before making any move. (It’s got them this blog post for a start…)

3) Be reactively supportive. When fans, consumers or press ask the question, ‘So whad’ya make of all this Jack Willy stuff then?’, respond with a reasonably non-committal ‘We think their cause is an incredibly worthy one and we wish them all the best.’ Or even something a tad more engaged such as ‘and we’re honoured they saw the value in the Jack Wills brand to help promote awareness for their campaign’. But kept fairly at arm’s length and not promoting an association

4) Be proactively supportive. Seek out the organisers and reach out to them. Discover more about the set-up and explore the option of an official partnership. In an if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em kinda way. Cross-promotion could work in your favour (though on first impression from the site, significantly TBC whether the Jack Willy gang would want an official JW stamp or seal of approval.)

5) Be privately opposed. The public voice decries any association with the charity – no negative comments per se, but making it clear there is no connection. Privately, approach with a view to enforcing a stronger message of complete independence from the JW brand in order to put an end to the passing off (which, frankly, it undeniably is as it took me at least 5 minutes to find the ‘NOT Jack Wills’ statement. Granted it was mobile web, but I’m not exactly web illiterate)

6) Be publicly opposed. Dangerous territory, but if a brand feels its values have been compromised, sometimes it should go all out to protect those. Harder if it’s a worthy cause, but if it were an organisation of deplorable or questionable (or competitive) intent, a brand wouldn’t hesitate. Just because it’s for ‘charidee’, should it act differently?

Of course, it might all be a double bluff, and maybe the Northern Irish founders really do have a link to JW. Maybe Pete Williams gave his blessing. But it doesn’t look that way to me. And whatever stance the brand takes, they should decide a position fast because the questions will come – if they haven’t already.


Jack Wills Spring Look
Jack WILLS Spring look (that's WILLS. With an S.)


So what would I do? I’d rule out #6 immediately – the cause is far too worthy and the objective well-meaning to bring in the heavies. For the time being, I’d also avoid #5, but consider a conversation in this territory later down the line if a supportive angle is decided against. Your brand equity is your livelihood – regardless of the well-meaning nature of potential impostors.

It’s probably too early days for #4 and you would need buy-in and weighty consideration from all stake-holders within the organisation before going down this route. But it’s not out of the question. So I think my take would be a combination of #2 and #3 – with a skew towards the latter. As a light-hearted, fun-loving brand, unofficially supporting these guys would be a strong way to demonstrate not taking yourselves too seriously.

Whatever happens, don’t do #1. Even if, at the very least, you prepare an internal reactive brand position to respond to queries in this area. Silence is damaging – especially for a brand whose lifeblood is its highly engaged dialogue with its avid fan base. They will ask, and a brand always needs a (consistent) answer.

And in the meantime, go buy yourself a Jack Willy hoodie. Go on. It’s for a good cause.


11 thoughts on “Jack Willy, Jack Wills and what to do when passing off is all in the name of charity

  1. As a lover of Jack Wills, i recently picked up a tweet about Jack Willy and immediately loved that it was both tongue-in-cheek and for a good cause. before I realised it was for charity i thought it might just be a fake company, but realising I could wear similar style-hoodies for cheaper and for cancer research I immediately contacted them to get them involved with my boyfriend who studies medicine. They obliged and offered to send us both (!) free stuff for some promotion around London and I happily accepted.

    Knowing Michael Silverleaf QC (he is an expert on Intellectual property law) I wonderd if JW would go all out to protect their branding but since all profits do not go to the makers of the clothes it is impossible to say they are cashing in on its ubiquitious branding without looking like dicks.

    I think JW would be wise to maintain a safe but slightly supportive distance with its charity name-sake and if anything JW will get more and more brand advocation by people misreading the “willy” and thinking people are talking about the original JW.

    It will help the smaller company also, since it will get a lot of support from people who are in charity, medicine, research, students, sports, and even probably get in the people who love JW but cant afford it (after all, my own jack willy hoodie looks like jack wills anyway because when i wear my JW gilet over it the “y” is hidden. Also, people who dislike JW now find an outlet of showing it without having to buy something that says “JW is shit” on it.

  2. Great points. Though the fact that the Jack Willy hoodie could be so easily worn as a JW alternative (gillet styling a very good example of this), should possibly worry the brand. How to protect without being over-protective? Interesting…

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’m really glad that you’re supporting Jack Willy as it’s such a great cause and a bit of fun at the same time. Jack Willy have clearly stated on their homepage (before you even get into their site) that they have no association with Jack Wills and this is repeated throughout, however, Jack Wills have not accepted this and are actually trying to stop them from trading.

    This may be old news to you but I strongly feel that what Jack Wills are doing should be publicized and let everyone see just what they are really like. Who would really try and shut down a charity?

    Please show your support in this and tell your friends.

  4. Jack Willy are now into their last 12 hours as they are having to close down due to Jack Wills. I can’t help but feel this is the wrong way to go about it? It was set up by 2 Northern Irish students who showed great ingenuity and creativity. Proceeds also went to charity, to squash the little guys as Jack Wills are doing does not look well on their part!

    Shame on you Jack Wills

  5. Shame on you Jack Wills for closing them down! I was an ardent sunny West Sussex JW lovin’ guy till i read this, instead of closing them down you should have embraced their spirit. Bad show JW, bad show!

  6. Late coming to the party, but has anyone spoken to the charity the proceeds were apparently going to? I heard a rumour (and I have not investigated, so is as yet unfounded), that the charity angle was a gimmick – the said charity had not received a penny from Jack Willy…

  7. my friend knows the guy who ran it and he says that they contacted the UK Charity at the very start and told they were going to raise money for them, but as Jack Willy was only running 2 months, they hadn’t donated yet, as they wanted to save up to give a ‘decent’ donation.. Jack Wills apparently then contacted the charity and told them to whipe their hands of Willy and convinced them that they weren’t going to donate which was lies and exceptionally dirty tactics…. and they did.. and from what I hear.. in a horrible rude manner.. but in the end I think they raised almost £1500 for the Irish Cancer Society.. so not bad for a couple of students…

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