retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Michael Jordan on Friday was awarded $8.9 million in damages after a high profile jury trial into whether Safeway's now-defunct Dominick's division in Chicago used his likeness without permission in a 2009 ad designed to sell steaks.

The company, the Chicago Tribune writes, "was facing an uphill battle from the outset, say economists, marketing experts and lawyers who followed the trial for insights into how Jordan and his advisers have built his brand into the one of the world's most successful sports marketing machines. Their consensus: The size of the award is not only a warning to corporate America, but also a lesson to other athletes to 'be like Mike' and stay on their guard ... Evidence at the trial showed how Jordan, for more than three decades, refused to sign one-off deals, keeping his endorsement rate sky-high by signing only a small number of long-term contracts with business partners that he expected to ultimately pay him more than $10 million. That strategy was threatened by Dominick's attempt in court to pay a budget price for a one-time use of his name."

That budget price, it should be noted was $126,900 ... a number that was advanced by experts that Safeway hired, but that almost nobody else believed.

The difference between Safeway's number and the jury's number is almost certainly being noted by the folks at Jewel-Osco, which is facing a similar lawsuit brought against it by Jordan, scheduled to go to trial in December.

The irony, of course, is that Safeway and Jewel-Osco both are now owned by Albertsons.

The other irony: Jordan says that "it never was about the money," but rather about zealously protecting his brand equity.

And that's the real business lesson here (other than that you probably shouldn't mess with Jordan) - that it is incumbent on all of us in business to be resolute and aggressive about protecting our brand equity, whatever that happens to be. It is, in the end, our most important differential advantage in the marketplace ... and if we do it right, it should be priceless.

Jordan's brand equity strategy is an Eye-Opener.

By the way ... if you want to watch a movie that essentially is all about brand equity, rent American Gangster. It is nominally about the drug trade in NYC during the time of The French Connection, but there are a lot of critical lessons in there about how to establish and protect brand equity and differential business advantages. (And if you want more such lessons, there is a book entitled "THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies" that is available on Amazon by clicking here.)
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