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.
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.
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.