Monday, November 4, 2013

More on Inspired-by-Starbucks Stores in China

There are two things deserving further attention regarding the previous post in which I shared an example of a cafe in Zigong with a Chinese name that sounds very much like the Chinese name of Starbucks.

1. In a comment to the post, "Pete" wrote:
If you have to explain the joke...

This made me ponder which Chinese brands I'm familiar with. The the three I thought of were Tsingtao, Norinco, and Seagull. I wonder what the far more than 99% of Americans who aren't interested in the combination of beer, guns, and watches would think of.
I don't doubt Pete appreciates that some of this blog's readers can't read Chinese and are not representative of people in Zigong. So the first line in Pete's comment raises the issue of whether people in Zigong who might consider going to this cafe would appreciate "the joke". The short answer is: I don't know, especially since I am not familiar with the brand recognition for Starbucks in Zigong.

But I still consider it likely that the person who came up with the name is familiar with Starbucks. Again, it would be quite a coincidence otherwise. And in conversations I have had with owners of other stores with possible (or clear) examples of trademark infringement, I have found some might be motivated by reasons not necessarily dependent on the familiarity customers may have with a particular brand. Sometimes an imitation of a brand may be more representative of the owner's own likes or aspirations than of an attempt to deceive others to any degree.

The second part of Pete's comment raises the issue of Chinese brand recognition in the U.S. There were reports of a survey conducted by HD Trade Services indicating that 94% of Americans are not able to name a single Chinese band. The link to the original report, provided by a number of publications, does not currently work, and I cannot find the report elsewhere. So I will refrain from commenting on it.

I will just add that some Chinese companies are now more concerned about whether Chinese consumers think a brand is well-known abroad than whether the brand is actually well-known abroad. One example I have previously mentioned involved a company advertising in London primarily for the perception it provided in China. I will discuss a potential new example in a later post.

2. Some readers may be curious about the stores I saw that "would likely be of more interest to lawyers at Starbucks". So here is one I saw three year ago which quickly came to mind:

Sutarbucks Coffee in Yanji, Jilin province, China

Yes, despite the Korean writing, this Sutarbucks Coffee store is in China. Korean is common in the city were I found it--Yanji, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin province--due to its large population of ethnic Koreans and its proximity to North Korea. Like in Zigong, a genuine Starbucks cannot be found in Yanji. The nearest one is about 5 hours away by car in Changchun. Again, I'm not positive this would count as trademark infringement, but I would be rather surprised if Starbucks wasn't an inspiration.

And Pete might be happy I don't think I need to explain why.

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