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Thu Oct 02 18:36:35 SAST 2014

Polo SA not Polo Ralph Lauren

Megan Power | 10 March, 2014 09:25
SURPRISED: Rob Laurie outside the Polo store at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Global marketing gurus have done a brilliant job of marrying lifestyle aspirations with premier luxury brands.

Wearing a pair of Gucci sunglasses, donning a Guess T-shirt, clutching a Louis Vuitton bag, all topped off with a spray of Chanel No 5 epitomises an elitist way of life that millions aspire to.

But there is more to it than the prestige. Whether justified or not, there is a perception of quality associated with top global brands, some of which have been around for more than 100 years.

So when the price tag for a single item is more than some people spend on food a week, customers must feel it is well worth forking money out for.

But what happens when the iconic brand you are buying is not actually what you think it is? Like finding out that Polo in South Africa has no link to the multi-billion-dollar Polo Ralph Lauren brand in the US.

Like the Cape Town businessman who first alerted me, my colleagues were peeved when I broke the news to them. They had all either bought Polo products - or wanted to - and had assumed that the items sold locally were part of Ralph Lauren's classic international range.

It is an easy mistake to make. The two brands share a name and a similar range of premium goods. But, more significantly, they use an almost identical motif: a polo player on a horse.

The key difference between the two motifs is that on the local Polo products the horse runs to the right. The Ralph Lauren horse runs to the left.

It turns out that Polo South Africa - which was founded in 1976 - owns the local trademark rights to the word "Polo" and the horse motif.

Ralph Lauren, who launched the famous Polo brand in 1967 and boasts stores in the world's major cities, is barred from selling any of its own Polo goods, except perfume, in this country.

Does this blurred distinction not have the potential, at best, to confuse consumers or, at worst, mislead them?

Cape Town businessman Rob Laurie learned that Polo South Africa was not linked to the US brand only last year when taking a visiting French businessman to a local Polo store.

The associate "lost his luggage and I had to take him to buy some Polo clothing, which is virtually all he wears", said Laurie.

When the visitor told Laurie the Polo garments in South Africa were "not genuine [not Polo Ralph Lauren]" , Laurie dismissed him as being "a typical French snob" and didn't give it another thought. But when two business associates later backed up the Frenchman's claims, he contacted Polo South Africa, which confirmed the two brands were unrelated.

"Of concern to me is the price of the products, which are pitched at international levels, but the consumer is not aware of the situation," said Laurie. "This should be brought to the attention of consumers, who can then make their own choice as to whether they want to buy the product."

Polo South Africa sells its classic golf shirt in its stand-alone stores for R700. A long-sleeve men's shirt at its Rosebank, Johannesburg, shop was selling for R899 this week, a pair of men's leather shoes for R1790, and women's jeans ranged from R499 to R899. All the labels say "Made in China".

Ralph Lauren's classic Polo golf shirt costs $85 (about R905). On the US company's website, jeans are listed as starting at $98 , flip- flops go for $20, men's dress shoes for $1350 and suits start at $1495 (about R16000).

I asked the LA Group, which owns Polo South Africa, why it would choose to produce a brand so similar to the US version? If the name and motif were not "borrowed" from Polo Ralph Lauren, was it just an incredible coincidence?

I got nowhere with group legal adviser Rae James, who refused to answer such questions either by e-mail or on the telephone, saying they had "no relevance". Instead, she reiterated her e-mailed statement that Polo South Africa has a "use agreement" with Ralph Lauren that entitles the company to use the Polo trademark in Africa and prevents Ralph Lauren from trading in the same territories.

"To differentiate the product, it was agreed that the polo pony would face differently," the statement read. The trademarks were registered and owned by the company throughout Africa, she said, and had been used for more than 35 years.

"There's nothing more to it," said James when I asked for more details. When I suggested there was, asking whether she did not think Polo South Africa was misleading consumers, she said the company was unaware of any market confusion.

A simple query on where the local garments were made went unanswered.

While ducking my questions, which she described as "aggressive", James warned that if I published anything untrue there would be "repercussions".

The threat was repeated in an e-mail from an attorney representing the company, who described certain words used by me and Laurie as defamatory.

Ralph Lauren, which is rumoured to be interested in opening stores in this country, declined to comment.

Polo South Africa sells its products through at least six stand-alone stores as well as in selected Stuttafords, Edgars and John Craig branches countrywide. On the Edgars website, the local Polo logo is listed under "international" brands, alongside the likes of Levi's, Billabong and Jeep.

Stuttafords, which sells Polo Ralph Lauren perfume and Polo South Africa garments, lists Polo Ralph Lauren's logo alongside top names such as Prada, Gucci and Guess in its "brands" listing.

Then there is the Branded website. The independent retailer of premier brands in Gauteng dedicates a page to the Polo South Africa brand with a link that takes users to Ralph Lauren's website.

When I called two Branded stores asking whether the Polo products it sold were the US Ralph Lauren products, one admitted it was a local brand. The other said it was Polo Ralph Lauren. Ditto for three John Craig stores phoned: one said the product was local, another suggested it came from Poland and another said it was Polo Ralph Lauren. And Polo South Africa thinks there is no confusion.

Update: The headline on this story was changed to reflect Polo South Africa is not fake but there is no link to the multi-billion-dollar Polo Ralph Lauren brand in the US.

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Thu Oct 02 18:36:35 SAST 2014 ::
How on earth is this not blatant copywrite plagerism....?! TIA.
There is a difference between copyright or plagiarism and trademarks. The word POLO is in general use so no copyright or plagiarism applies for the word. A picture of a rider on a horse welding a stick is also pretty generic thus unless your logo is an exact copy no copyright issue there either. Copyright under international law generally applies everywhere e.g. if I publish a book in SA my rights are protected around the world. Now a trademark, that is different, this is where you choose a word, symbol or logo (or combination) to represent your company and brand - and here is the kicker - in a geographical area. If you don't protect your trademark in markets you believe you will enter in the future and somebody else registers your trademark you have this problem similar to patent trolls. Only if the other party copied your name and logo exactly can you call on copyright. Thus using a non distinct name like polo was just silly particularly since they did not protect it under trademark in all countries.
You cannot copywrite common English words. In fact Polo SA is not a fake Ralph Lauren. They have a legitimate and protected market here is SA. At worst RL could claim a case of passing off. However they would have to prove 2 things: 1. They need to prove that RL Polo had a sufficient following in SA in 1976 to cause confusion between the brands. 2. That RL was at least planning to enter the SA market or had entered the SA market in 1976. Other than that the logo is fundamentally different although similar. Before people start berating me please first check the law. Im sure RL will pay you loads for that legal loophole. Also think of it this way. If you had a business in SA and someone else register the same TM some time before you did in another country without your knowledge. Do you thinks it's fair to take your market and hard work for 30 years just because that technicality. Ralph Lauren has known about Polo for years. Why have they not done anything.
Just because it is legal does not make it right. Polo South Africa hijacked the Ralph Lauren Brand in South Africa, and Polo South Africa is a company based on parasitic opportunism. And they have taken the unilateral decision to decide for all of us that we don’t want or deserve Ralph Lauren in South Africa, and they have also decided for all of us that we actually prefer their fake, inferior and poor quality rip-offs. They have perpetuated themselves for a long time through the apparatus of a rather nuanced from of brand parasitism, and at some point it is all going to have to stop. There are consumers that actually want to have access to the genuine article and this is unfairly blocked by the fact that nobody is prepared to put an end to this vulgar and embarrassing state of affairs. This company, Polo South Africa, would not exist were it not for their blatant deception. If they cannot create a business using their own original thought and intellect to be successful, should it be at the expense of the consumer? It is indeed all a very well orchestrated copying mechanism designed to replicate itself on demand to deceive consumers on a grand scale and it is so widespread and prevalent nobody would even suspect it. The fact is that Polo South Africa never worked to build the Ralph Lauren Polo brand or developed any aspect of the identity it emboldens. They perpetuate a lie to be in business. They ride on the identity of Ralph Lauren International, and they know for an absolute fact that their business is based on one massive and blatant lie and they are terrified that we will all start talking about it. That’s why they their lawyers threaten all the journalists that have ever even bothered to report on this story. What Polo South Africa is doing is wilfully deceptive, misleading and amounts to riding on the international acclaim and prestige of a very well-known brand by copying and reverse engineering their products and then pandering them off as the same article. Just because they have won the legal right to the trademark and identity, does not make it ethically or morally right. You buy a brand because you care about what you look like and what it represents, and because you put an effort in to ascribe to a certain ideal, and their impersonation undermines that. But it is out there and in the public mind, and educated brand conscious consumers will shun this fake Polo South Africa crap, like they have for decades. That this company called Polo South Africa is allowed to exist is honestly shocking, and the fact that they are allowed to ply their trade next to the likes of Mont Blanc and Louis Vitton in Sandton City is just completely disingenuous and calls into question the authenticity of all luxury brands in South Africa. It is highly disrespectful and frankly insulting to think that consumers will put up with this. There are a lot of people making noise about this, and it is not going to go away. There is nothing proudly South African about this either. What has this company ever made or produced that is actually original aside from reverse engineering the authentic Ralph Lauren products as they release them every season? They try allude to being Proudly South African and invoke wistful emotional resonance by saying that their founder had a vision to make the best shirts in Africa. But I call bullsh*t on that one, all he did was pull a clever con to deny a brand or its own right to its hard won original intellectual property. And then instead of holding the brand hostage and making a quick buck, he decided to be more audacious, and give himself the gift that keeps on giving, so he built an entire company based on the identity of another, which to me is the worst kind of thing any business can do. He stood on the shoulders of Ralph Lauren, who was building an ethical and original concept and exploited it by stealing it here in South Africa and through clever legal complexities and wrangling denied all of us the authenticity the brand inspires. Polo South Africa would not be in business if they could not ride on the success of the international brand that is Polo by Ralph Lauren. And they will argue they are not fake and have all the right in the world to keep doing what they are dong, but I have some questions they will find very difficult to answer: Why does all the in-store branding in Stuttafords and Edgars and Men’s Clothing Stores place their fake products in the displays with all the international brands? Why when it is referenced in Men's Health and Fashion magazines does Polo South Africa’s marketing department deliberately turn a blind eye when the magazines publish it referring to Ralph Lauren and make no effort to correct it and make that important distinction? Why do they put allow authentic Ralph Lauren Fragrances to be displayed alongside fake Polo South Africa merchandise and even wore take credit for these products in advertorials by simply not correcting the editorials? The fact is Polo South Africa lies to the South African consumer by omission, and it is time for that to end. The general perception of the public is that Polo South Africa is the local business unit of Ralph Lauren International. And it is time for this fake brand to be forced to make that distinction. The Consumer Protection Act can force them to do this. If it was such a proudly South African company with such a rich history, why then does it impersonate and replicate virtually every aspect of the Polo by Ralph Lauren brand and their buying experience? From the distinctive gold and navy price tags on the clothes, to an almost identical logo and name, identical design styles, and shockingly, similar collections of clothing as and when they are produced by Ralph Lauren overseas. Even the advertising and models they use are strategically and stylistically selected to impersonate the design style of Ralph Lauren down to the font used to run their tag lines. No, there is nothing to be proud of there. Simply put, Polo South Africa depends on the South Africa consumer remaining uninformed and ignorant in order to be in business, and I for one find their business model blatantly parasitic and distasteful because it is deceptive and misleading. Mark my words the revolution will not come loudly, it will be a war of attrition, and consumers will fight and speak with their wallets, and in time to come their fake stores will close their doors for the last time, and the brand they spent 40 years impersonating will be worthless. I like millions of South Africans look forward to the day we can have the real Ralph Lauren products and stores here and not this rip-off fake sh** they spin us. Down with Folo South Africa.
You have got to be kidding G4774!!! The logo is fundamentally different. You sound just like a lawyer for the company. To the untrained eye (aka pretty much every customer) there is no difference unless you know the little secret of the horse and rider facing different directions and a few lines missing which unless you were looking at them side by side under a magnifying glass you would miss. If this is not designed to mislead the customer then I don't know what is. Do you really expect us to believe that the original owners of POLO SA just happened to select an almost identical logo by coincidence. Of course the local POLO is trying to leverage off the international brand. Shame on you. Be original.
Frankly, who cares? Those who prefer to support snob-brands need to look out for themselves. For the rest of us, the whole schemozzle seems like just an attempt to set up a lawyers' picnic. Are there really any noticeable differences in quality? I doubt it. Anyway, Polo is the name of a Volkswagen car model, as well as beinfg a snob-"sport".
The products are a copy of RLPolo - the merchandising in the store is practically identical - albeit a fear seasons behind. They have even copy sub- collections example the use of the bigger logo. The horse is slightly different in that the legs are all extended - and is used facing the other way. The issue here is that effort is taken to make the merchandise LOOK identical - your copy is my fake. The SA polo product is also in large department stores besides REAL international labels - note that these same stores carry the polo fragrances - which Are real. The average SA consumer is not aware they are buying a copy/fake - it's deceiving at best.
polo was registered in South Africa when SA was shunned by the global community and was not a signatory to international trademark and copyright treaties. polo copied RL Polo from day one - and claims "usage" once SA joined the international community Bach then you could not buy ANY international brand in SA - now polo SA sells fakes to an unsuspecting customer - and blocks the real RL from selling here - except for fragrances. This is not proudly SA - it's. Shame on SA.
One of their distributors www.fandc.co.za clearly uses a Polo Ralph Lauren image on their website
Just because it is legal does not make it right. Polo South Africa hijacked the Ralph Lauren Brand in South Africa, and Polo South Africa is a company based on parasitic opportunism. And they have taken the unilateral decision to decide for all of us that we don’t want or deserve Ralph Lauren in South Africa, and they have also decided for all of us that we actually prefer their fake, inferior and poor quality rip-offs. They have perpetuated themselves for a long time through the apparatus of a rather nuanced from of brand parasitism, and at some point it is all going to have to stop. There are consumers that actually want to have access to the genuine article and this is unfairly blocked by the fact that nobody is prepared to put an end to this vulgar and embarrassing state of affairs. This company, Polo South Africa, would not exist were it not for their blatant deception. If they cannot create a business using their own original thought and intellect to be successful, should it be at the expense of the consumer? It is indeed all a very well orchestrated copying mechanism designed to replicate itself on demand to deceive consumers on a grand scale and it is so widespread and prevalent nobody would even suspect it. The fact is that Polo South Africa never worked to build the Ralph Lauren Polo brand or developed any aspect of the identity it emboldens. They perpetuate a lie to be in business. They ride on the identity of Ralph Lauren International, and they know for an absolute fact that their business is based on one massive and blatant lie and they are terrified that we will all start talking about it. That’s why they their lawyers threaten all the journalists that have ever even bothered to report on this story. What Polo South Africa is doing is wilfully deceptive, misleading and amounts to riding on the international acclaim and prestige of a very well-known brand by copying and reverse engineering their products and then pandering them off as the same article. Just because they have won the legal right to the trademark and identity, does not make it ethically or morally right. You buy a brand because you care about what you look like and what it represents, and because you put an effort in to ascribe to a certain ideal, and their impersonation undermines that. But it is out there and in the public mind, and educated brand conscious consumers will shun this fake Polo South Africa crap, like they have for decades. That this company called Polo South Africa is allowed to exist is honestly shocking, and the fact that they are allowed to ply their trade next to the likes of Mont Blanc and Louis Vitton in Sandton City is just completely disingenuous and calls into question the authenticity of all luxury brands in South Africa. It is highly disrespectful and frankly insulting to think that consumers will put up with this. There are a lot of people making noise about this, and it is not going to go away. There is nothing proudly South African about this either. What has this company ever made or produced that is actually original aside from reverse engineering the authentic Ralph Lauren products as they release them every season? They try allude to being Proudly South African and invoke wistful emotional resonance by saying that their founder had a vision to make the best shirts in Africa. But I call bullsh*t on that one, all he did was pull a clever con to deny a brand or its own right to its hard won original intellectual property. And then instead of holding the brand hostage and making a quick buck, he decided to be more audacious, and give himself the gift that keeps on giving, so he built an entire company based on the identity of another, which to me is the worst kind of thing any business can do. He stood on the shoulders of Ralph Lauren, who was building an ethical and original concept and exploited it by stealing it here in South Africa and through clever legal complexities and wrangling denied all of us the authenticity the brand inspires. Polo South Africa would not be in business if they could not ride on the success of the international brand that is Polo by Ralph Lauren. And they will argue they are not fake and have all the right in the world to keep doing what they are dong, but I have some questions they will find very difficult to answer: Why does all the in-store branding in Stuttafords and Edgars and Men’s Clothing Stores place their fake products in the displays with all the international brands? Why when it is referenced in Men's Health and Fashion magazines does Polo South Africa’s marketing department deliberately turn a blind eye when the magazines publish it referring to Ralph Lauren and make no effort to correct it and make that important distinction? Why do they put allow authentic Ralph Lauren Fragrances to be displayed alongside fake Polo South Africa merchandise and even wore take credit for these products in advertorials by simply not correcting the editorials? The fact is Polo South Africa lies to the South African consumer by omission, and it is time for that to end. The general perception of the public is that Polo South Africa is the local business unit of Ralph Lauren International. And it is time for this fake brand to be forced to make that distinction. The Consumer Protection Act can force them to do this. If it was such a proudly South African company with such a rich history, why then does it impersonate and replicate virtually every aspect of the Polo by Ralph Lauren brand and their buying experience? From the distinctive gold and navy price tags on the clothes, to an almost identical logo and name, identical design styles, and shockingly, similar collections of clothing as and when they are produced by Ralph Lauren overseas. Even the advertising and models they use are strategically and stylistically selected to impersonate the design style of Ralph Lauren down to the font used to run their tag lines. No, there is nothing to be proud of there. Simply put, Polo South Africa depends on the South Africa consumer remaining uninformed and ignorant in order to be in business, and I for one find their business model blatantly parasitic and distasteful because it is deceptive and misleading. Mark my words the revolution will not come loudly, it will be a war of attrition, and consumers will fight and speak with their wallets, and in time to come their fake stores will close their doors for the last time, and the brand they spent 40 years impersonating will be worthless. I like millions of South Africans look forward to the day we can have the real Ralph Lauren products and stores here and not this rip-off fake sh** they spin us. Down with Folo South Africa.
This is fascinating - besides the obvious vanity issue of spending money on one brand thinking you are buying the other and not knowing the difference - priceless. The issue here though is in business there are many examples where the copy cat (or fast follower) builds a successful business in another market as the original. Let's look at Mr R Lauren, bearing in mind that he too in 1967 was a fast follower, by starting off to copy European broad neckties of his own design in NY and did not become an international brand till 1981 when they entered the European market. By 1976 when the POLO SA arrived on the scene, even if they did copy Mr R Lauren, it was up to Ralph Lauren to protect their brand around the world and they did not. Additional complication here is that SA was shunned by the world during this time and as apartheid continued boycotted. This meant many international companies ignored protecting their brands in SA and left themselves exposed in this way. Many choose to buy back their brands, one has to wonder why Ralph Lauren has not done some. All in all this comes back to the "buyer beware" adage but personally I think reflects poorly on SA, we are better than this. If Elon Musk (from South Africa) with SpaceX can put America back in space, then surely we can be original and innovative to the point where others want to copy us. I would suggest something like "RUGGA the range of clothing for the sophisticated tough guys!", I mean POLO, really?