Last week, the ‘China is finally innovating’ crew took a collective gasp at China’s latest foreign brand ripoff. Tingfei Long Sporting Goods’ “Uncle Martian” is scarily close to the branding of American brand Under Armour – let’s understand why?
Often, imitation can be the ultimate form of flattery. But in the ultra-competitive sportswear category in China, it is an unwanted headache for relatively new entrant Under Armour.
The brand launch of Uncle Martian revealed a logo that ‘copies and borrows heavily’ from Under Armour – using similar red, with a similar typeface and framing. See Below.
The Baltimore-based brand has indicated it will pursue action, saying “Under Armour is aware of the Uncle Martian launch event. Uncle Martian’s uses of Under Armour’s famous logo, name, and other intellectual property are a serious concern and blatant infringement. Under Armour will vigorously pursue all business and legal courses of action.”
So why has this happened – fact and hypotheses
Culturally speaking, the effects of an “exemplar-based education” could explain the repeated knock-off syndrome from Chinese brands.
A fundamental difference in terms of how creativity is expressed in China, is the expectation that new expressions should be respectful to a ‘master form’, so painters should reference the masters in their works, kung fu artists must develop their styles based on the model set out by their master.
Looking at the development of Chinese tech brand Xiaomi we see this very clearly – first when they developed mobile phones they modelled themselves after Apple, and when they moved into appliances they then mimicked Japanese leader, Muji. For our discussion, read here.
However the sheer boldness of Uncle Martian’s ripoff of Under Armour – particularly in terms of colour and use of the same type conventions – suggests something far more cynical at play.
Looking at the short history of sportswear in China, two major cases of dubious ‘brand closeness’ have become famous.
First, Li Ning’s use of a ‘swoosh’ in their logo that resembled Nike, and then the long-term use of basketball legend Michael Jordan’s imagery by a local brand using the same Chinese characters as Jordan (乔丹.
In neither case could proof of intellectual property infringement be upheld in Chinese courts.
However in the Under Armour case, it would seem Uncle Martian will have to take their IP to “out of space” to avoid the expensive law suit heading their way. But this is China, so let’s see.