Brand partnerships are usually the least interesting part of a phone announcement, but Samsung's latest phone unveiling comes with some serious drama. The company's new Galaxy A8s announcement included the surprising announcement of a partnership with Supreme in China, where the company has not operated in the past. However, it's not the "real" Supreme; it's the fake Italian firm that has been such a thorn in Supreme's side.
If you're not familiar with Supreme, you're probably old. I'm told the kids really go bananas for Supreme-branded clothing and accessories—I mean, it's just the bee's knees for today's youth. Supreme, which is headquartered in New York, neglected to register its trademark in a number of places. That allowed a company called International Brand Firm to set up Supreme Italia to sell Supreme-branded items. Supreme (the real one) recently lost a counterfeiting case in Italy to the fake Supreme, which has apparently made the Supreme Italia all the bolder. All caught up? Okay.
That brings us back to Samsung's A8s announcement. Samsung brought two men up on stage at the event who claimed to be the CEOs of Supreme, but not the Supreme people expected. They announced Supreme would soon open a seven-story flagship store in Beijing and hold a runway show in Shanghai as part of the Samsung partnership. Samsung's Leo Lau later clarified on Weibo that the company knows it's working with Supreme Italia, which owns the name in most of the Asia-Pacific region. Here's the full statement.
The brand we are collaborating with is Supreme Italia, not Supreme US. Supreme US doesn't have the authorization to sell and market in China. Whereas the Italian brand got the APAC (except Japan) product retail and marketing authorization.
The real Supreme is not amused, calling the other Supreme a "counterfeit organization." See below.
Supreme is not working with Samsung, opening a flagship location in Beijing or participating in a Mercedes-Benz runway show. These claims are blatantly false and propagated by a counterfeit organization.
The need for this statement illustrates why trademarks are important. Supreme made a serious error when it failed to secure its name in other countries. For now, Samsung is continuing with the shady Supreme dealings, but Chinese consumers might not care. They just want that red box.
After facing some pretty heavy public backlash following it reaffirming plans to do business with the "off-brand" Supreme, Samsung appears to be rethinking its strategy. In a message posted to social network Weibo, the company writes (translated):
Recently, Samsung Electronics announced at the launch of the Galaxy A8s that it will cooperate with Supreme Italia in the Chinese market. We are currently re-evaluating this cooperation, and we deeply regret the inconvenience caused.
While that's not quite a full backing-down from the originally announced partnership, the contrite language being used is a marked departure from Samsung's earlier statements surrounding the controversy.
It remains to be seen how this will all play out, but hopefully Samsung's got a backup strategy for promoting the Galaxy A8s as heckin' lit, fam.