‘You can’t borrow prestige’: Why MSCHF and Lil Nas X’s use of the Nike trademark was “lazy and rude”

MSCHF's 'Satan Shoe' with Nike's trademark

Source: MSCHF.

The combination of the devil, a pop song video and 666 pairs of Nike Air shoes containing a drop of blood appeared calculated to cause a storm. And last week, it also resulted in a judge upholding Nike’s lawsuit to stop MSCHF Product Studio from using Nike’s trademark swoosh and forced the recall of all the sneakers. 

The equation is simple. You can’t borrow the prestige of someone else’s endeavour and call it yours. It wasn’t your image to trade.

The singer known as Lil Nas X, who collaborated with MSCHF on the shoes, took to Twitter, saying, “Freedom of expression gone out the window.”

But the canvas of their satanic expression wasn’t blank. It was also marked with one of the best-known logos on the planet.

Does anyone believe those 666 pairs would have sold out in less than a minute if they weren’t classic Nike Air Max 97 sneakers?

In the lawsuit, Nike said, “Decisions about what products to put the ‘swoosh’ on belong to Nike, not to third parties like MSCHF,” referring to its “swoosh” logo.

“Nike requests that the court immediately and permanently stop MSCHF from fulfilling all orders for its unauthorised Satan Shoes.”

There was no comment from Nike about why it didn’t file a lawsuit in 2019 when MSCHF launched Nike Air Max Jesus shoes containing holy water with far less fanfare. Indeed, the tie in with Lil Nas X’s controversial devil-themed music video for his song “Montero (Call Me by Your Name) raised the stakes this time.

The lines between commerce and art have continued to blur since Andy Warhol used images of Campbell’s Soup cans for his first solo show in 1962, launching the pop art movement. Crucially, there was no chance of mistaking Warhol’s artwork for the actual can of soup. 

In today’s co-opt culture, people feel emboldened to support and share anything.

This makes it easy to forget the vast amounts of capital it takes to establish trademarks, so they become an integral part of an organisation’s reputation and identity. And, with time, becoming a place holder for the perception of what that company cares about. 

Trampling that investment is far from a trifling insult. Especially when you’re monkeying with perception of the approximately 80 billion dollar sneaker market’s undisputed gorilla. 

What did MSCHF think would happen?

They could have designed and made the sneaker themselves. If they didn’t have the manufacturing capacity, there is always Kick Starter. After all, the Lil Nas X video was a tailor-made hook to get people’s money ahead of making anything. 

Leveraging a well-known trademark may seem like a juicy shortcut for a small business looking to get a leg up in a crowded marketplace. However, beyond the dodgy ethics and legal landmines of using others property without permission, it’s just lazy and rude to ride the coattails of others effort for your gain. 

Do the work.

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