ITMA Spring Conference 2013: Branding lessons from Burberry


Burberry’s resurgence after decades of brand dilution offers valuable lessons for businesses, according to Alexia Willetts, who was speaking at this year’s Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys Spring Conference.

Willetts, a trademark attorney at UK firm at Brandilicious Ltd, said the Burberry fashion house became a victim of its own success in the 1970s, struggling with brand distortion and counterfeiting for more than 30 years.

Established in 1856 as ‘Burberrys’, the company adopted revolutionary marketing strategies, making use of product placement in TV programmes and films in the 1950s, according to Willetts, who is not affiliated with Burberry, but carried out research into the company.

But Burberry became associated with football violence, a phenomenon that spread throughout the 1970s in the UK. By the 1980s, the brand had stretched too far, Willetts said, with the company launching products including alcohol, which are not traditionally associated with the brand.

“There were lots of varying prices and products, uncontrolled licensors and parallel imports and grey market goods,” she said.

Burberry’s use by football hooligans and other criminal elements continued in the 1980s before Burberry suffered “massive” counterfeiting in 1990s, Willetts said. “The brand had become chaotic.”

Despite rebranding, introducing new product lines and moving away from the traditional check look, the Burberry brand continued to suffer in the early 2000s.

“There were further integrity issues as the ‘chavtastic’ era continued. The Burberry brand was hijacked by this culture and was worn by unwanted brand ambassadors, including celebrity cocaine users.”

But Willetts said to tackle the twin counterfeiting ad deteriorating brand problems, Burberry was relentless and rethought its strategy. “It withdrew the £15 pound check hat, which was one of its most accessible products, and its legal team really stepped up the pace,” she added.  

In 2005, Burberry appointed Andrea Ahrents as chief executive, soon focusing on tweaking existing products and introducing new ones. Burberry launched two regional brands in Japan.

“These guys did not rest on their laurels,” said Willetts. “Maintaining brand integrity is absolutely key for them. Burberry was extremely clever with collaboration and brand ambassadors, championing British celebrities including Emma Watson (Harry Potter films). It focused on store designs – its flagship stores are phenomenal – and technological investment, which has been really revolutionary.”

At the same time, Burberry maintained a strong protection policy that sent a clear message to counterfeiters, Willetts said. “Last year, a Manhattan court awarded $100 million damages to Burberry in a case that tracked back to China. The company also attacked distribution networks such as TK Maxx, which it is believed to have settled privately with.”

Willetts said Burberry’s response shows that finding new markets to operate in is important for beating brand dilution. She said the luxury brand market is lucrative, with Europe being an important selling region while “China is massive and will continue to be as its wealth continues to grow”. She highlighted Singapore, Sao Paolo and Russia as other important markets.

She added: “Burberry moved away from the check and its logo. Louis Vuitton is also adopting the same strategy, citing ‘logo fatigue’.”

“You need to chat to your clients about their corporate strategy – which products do they care about protecting. You can’t chase everyone,” Willetts said.

Brands should also carefully consider their social media policy – if any – they adopt, Willetts said. “When to use marks in Twitter or Facebook can be a headache for trademark attorneys. Pragmatism has to preserve – there is always a risk [with social media] but make sure there is a clear company policy,” she said.

Willetts also noted that during the process of producing company assets, such as logos, there’s an “amazing” amount of IP that is generated externally. “Make sure your design teams are transferring the IP to you, as many businesses don’t think to transfer. It’s very easy to transfer moral and exploitation rights in the UK but not in Germany or South Africa.”

The ITMA Spring Conference 2013 lasted from March 21 to March 22.  

This article was first published on 22 March 2013 in World IP Review

Burberry, Brandilicious, fashion, ITMA

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