Hermès has been confronted with an serious legal problem for several years: a company that makes clothing for men - Dafeng Garment – registered the Chinese name under which Hermès is known in China, Ai Ma Shi. The registered name is very similar, with the same pronunciation, but with a slight difference in one of the characters (爱玛仕 / 爱马仕). A tribunal, asking it to prove that its name was well known in China before 1995, has recently dismissed Hermès' petition. But as it turns out, even if the brand had registered 'Hermès' in China in 1977, it had failed to register a Chinese name and, apparently, still has not done so. Besides, the evidence requested by the court and given by the brand concerning the reputation of Hermès in China ... takes Hong Kong as a point of reference.
The issue of a Chinese name (subject I covered on Brandwatch in 2009) is crucial for all brands. They absolutely have to adopt a Chinese name to reinforce their reputation - and to do so, follow a few simple rules. In fact, most brands make two mistakes when tackling the Chinese market:
- They do not necessarily consider the question of a Chinese name. Some, by arrogance, do not even consider doing so, presuming that their Western name alone will be sufficient. This lands them in the same situation that Hermès is facing today.
- They register the brand name only in categories that directly concern them (fashion, watches, etc..). For a question of cost, they fail to do so in categories that are, a priori, quite unrelated (restaurants, hotels, etc.). This weakens their position in a country where one may open even a bar with the brand name overnight. In each of these cases, it can only lead to a spate of lawsuits and/or out-of-court settlements (including compensation).
The confusion reaches a peak when a third party offers to draw up a list of Chinese names for brands that do not have them. Christie's decided, a month ago, to publish a list of Chinese names for the famed Medoc wines of the 1855 classification: they had to withdraw the list in question in a panic following protests from some of the wine companies in question - which are now in the process of officially registering their Chinese names! Wine brands are therefore going to make up for lost time ... but what will become of the Chateau Cos d'Estournel that has decided not to adopt a Chinese name?