After Kristina Isola acknowledged the plagiarism of a design, it has been very interesting to see the various reactions of Marimekko, media, marketing and branding professionals. However, the most important and defining factor for the Marimekko brand going forward has been left out: managing the associations that consumers have with the brand Marimekko.
In the end, brands are merely associations in the minds of consumers. For example, Coca-Cola is associated with the real Cola drink and Snickers is associated with a peanut candy bar. Brand associations are very difficult to change. That is, until something disastrous happens and the brand owner does not deal with it properly. We have seen that happening to BP after the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The share price has still not recovered.
For Marimekko, the most important thing should be to ensure that consumers do not change their brand association. For example, if a consumer believed before that Marimekko equals “iconic Finnish fabric design”, Marimekko should do everything it can to avoid a change of association to “iconic Finnish fabric design and possible copies”.
The decision of the company to buy the rights to designs of Maria Pryimachenko will only give more opportunities for consumers to change the brand association. Why? Because it allows the discussion to continue and most importantly, it gives a constant physical reminder of the copy scandal. The continuous opportunity for consumers to change their brand associations is very harmful and can even be fatal for a brand.
If you are convinced that buying the rights to the designs of Maria Pryimachenko is the best thing to do, I invite you to go to a Marimekko shop and imagine you see those designs. Then be really honest with yourself: what do you think and feel about Marimekko? Has it changed? How?
What could Marimekko have done to ensure that consumers would have little opportunity to change their brand associations? They should have started with a different outcome in mind: a zero change in the brand association. As a result, the company should have been very firm and confident with consumers and media.
Don’t fight the facts, but deal with them. Don’t wait and see, but act. Don’t blame, don’t dismiss but take full responsibility and publicly end the relationship with Kristina Isola. By not distancing itself strongly from her, Marimekko indirectly indicates that ‘it is not a big deal’. From the moment this crisis started Marimekko should have followed its corporate value “fairness to everyone and everything” and actively reached out to the copyright holders.
When all of the above happens in an open and transparent way, a way that consumers can come to terms with and think ‘I understand and I would have done that too’, the brand is OK and brand associations have little opportunity to change.
This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta