As any brand owner will tell you, brand equity – or reputation – is not built in a day. Building reputation in a brand takes time, money, energy and passion.

Ask any of the world’s major brands – from Apple and Audi to Zanussi and Zippo. They will all tell you they’ve spent millions of man hours and dollars on building the reputations their brands enjoy today. So why, once you’ve built such a reputation, would you risk damaging it?

It may seem like an odd question to ask, but just occasionally brand owners seem to forget how long and hard it was to acquire equity their brands. Whether complacency or naivety is to blame, it does not matter: the consequences can be disastrous. Just ask Tiger Woods or BP.

Recently I was the object of such complacency or naivety (I haven’t worked out which yet). Although the matter has been resolved, I feel compelled to relay the essence of the story in the hope that other brand owners can avoid being as equally complacent or naïve.

About 18 months ago I bought a piece of home office equipment for domestic use. A couple of months ago it broke down. I took it to the local service agent who informed me that the reason it was broken was because I had replaced proprietary consumables (aka manufacturer-branded parts) with non-proprietary consumables (aka parts made by someone else) and these had damaged the equipment. Furthermore, my actions had voided the manufacturer’s warranty so they couldn’t fix the problem for free.

My choices were either pay for the problem to be fixed, or buy a whole new piece of equipment. Naturally I was somewhat aggrieved to learn this – particularly as the consumables vendor expressly assures consumers their products are fit for purpose. I therefore raised the issue with the vendor and, as is my right, sought a remedy under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

Long story short, I ended up being the meat in a proverbial brand sandwich. Neither the service agent, acting on behalf of the equipment manufacturer, nor the consumables vendor could agree where the fault for my machine dying lay.

More significantly, and on topic, they didn’t seem to care about me as their customer.

Unsurprisingly, the reputation of both brands went down in my estimation. Their respective reputations had attracted me to use their products and services for nearly a decade, but now, thanks to a seriously short-sighted approach to fixing a problem, they were about to self-inflict some significant damage.

Thankfully one of the brand owners – the vendor – ‘woke up and smelt the coffee’ and adopted a more positive approach to solving the problem (which is now solved). In doing so, the vendor restored something of its reputation in my eyes, but by no means all. I will definitely think twice in future about using the vendor’s products or services. As for the other party in this debacle, the service agent, well they have some serious pulling-up-of-socks to do if they expect me to be a customer of theirs again.

The moral of the story, then, is this: be careful with your brand. Don’t be complacent about it, don’t take it for granted. Look after it, and it will surely look after you.

This article first appeared in the Waikato Business News and was written by Ben Cain, Associate, James & Wells. Based in our Hamilton office Ben is part of the litigation team. His speciality areas include litigation and dispute resolution concerning trade mark rights and domain names. For more information and for expert IP advice contact Ben on Email: or Phone: +64 7 957 5660 or 0800 INNOV8.