December 08, 2005
I was away from the ofﬁce for most of the Trelise Cooper v. Tamsin Cooper matter that has occupied the New Zealand news media since late last week. In essence, it’s a regular trade mark matter, one which I will be serving on as a witness (no surprise: track record of serving, branding author, fashion publisher). Therefore, I can’t comment on the guts of the case, but I am surprised at how journalists have seized on this matter nationally.
It’s good for Tamsin Cooper, the small brand from small-town New Zealand, which tried to register her name as a trademark. She’s getting a lot of exposure. Trelise Cooper, a large brand from large-town New Zealand, is saying that it’s too close to her name.
But the way media have handled it is interesting. I know both Ms Tamsin Cooper and Mrs Trelise Cooper. Mrs Cooper and I appeared in Woman’s Wear Daily in the same year. I’ve actually known them both for the same amount of time.
It shows there is a fascination with the fashion business, thanks to the way it has been built up. The mystique of fashion makes an industry perceived as being a high-stakes glamour game, which has the potential to do good. More often than not, it doesn’t do good. But that image-building—or the smoke and mirrors—is what makes many brands tick. It’s why we used to watch Dallas.
What should concern us today as branding people is how to balance the need for good old-fashioned honesty and transparency with glamour. Fashion, ultimately, is the provision of clothing. Nothing more than that. But it reaches further, because we wear fashion for a sense of self-assurance, and it becomes more personal. Hence, so many mundane products, such as automobiles, get into the same game.
The lesson here for us is to respect the trend toward transparency in today’s business, but recognize that the public imagination can be captured if the product or the category is aspirational or personal. It validates the need for personal relationships when our products are potentially duller.
But just as glamour can boost us, it can hurt us. Both women had to comment on Morning Report, the New Zealand radio programme. The ﬂip side to all this is the cattiness that this business is known for. I saw an article in The Southland Times that compared two coats designed by the two Coopers—when the case has nothing to do with coat design or copyright. An “expert” engaged in hypocrisy by suggesting Ms Cooper call her brand simply ‘Tamsin’, as it was ‘strong’, when she herself used her full name to sell her own clothing range.
There are elements in the New Zealand media that are loving this story, so it’s being milked. But just like a soap opera, we are watching, reading and listening to it—because it gives a sense of drama that draws us in.
And that’s the other angle to a good brand. A good story. So many times on branding jobs we ask our clients for an internal “legend” that could be shared. Now, both companies have one, and the New Zealand public is judging them by their drama. permalink
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