It came to my attention the other day that Louis Vuitton is seeking damages from an artist who apparently infringed on their brand in a recent campaign to raise money for Darfur through the sale of t-shirts.

Instead, let's spend a minute looking at what happened and why. An artist named Nadia wanted to make a difference. She saw the trend in American media to cover celebrities (like Paris Hilton) and ignore human rights issues (like Darfur) because positive media is more popular than negative media. To fight this trend, she created a piece of art combining the two - displaying a victim of genocide holding a cute dog and a designer handbag.

Controversial? Definitely. Applicable? You bet. Hard to swallow? Absolutely.

This is where Louis Vuitton comes in. The image above doesn't identify any specific designer label, but seemingly condemns all designer labels. As a designer brand, L-V was deeply (and adversely) affected by this campaign. Immediately, L-V was faced with several options for addressing Nadia's artwork.

For a moment, let's assume L-V hasn't made their decision yet and has instead placed you in charge of determining their response. You can:

  1. Ignore it
  2. Condemn it
  3. Embrace it

Each option carries its own ramifications. Ignoring the art has the short-term benefit of clearing your conscience. Unfortunately, it carries the long term cost of damaging your brand because you ignored the opportunity to make a contribution to global change. Condemning the art is the action L-V did pursue. What this has led to is massive public awareness of Nadia's campaign and a bucket load of negative brand equity thrown in the direction of L-V's management.

A more effective road would be to embrace the campaign. The designer bag in the image is not a Louis Vuitton, but it got their attention. What L-V could do is support the t-shirt and instead condemn the Hollywood-applied brand image of apathetic movie stars and superficial models who tote Louis Vuitton products as a way to flout their ability to spend massive amounts of money while children are haphazardly murdered in foreign countries.

This is the message Nadia tried to display through her art. Without a response from Louis Vuitton, this message had the capacity to utterly destroy a powerful international brand. Unfortunately, the response issued has caused nearly as much damage as ignoring it would have. Now, the Louis Vuitton brand is clearly associated with the crisis in Darfur ... as an international brand that cares more about protecting its own assets than making a difference.

How do you think Louis Vuitton could have instead embraced Nadia's campaign? If you had been in charge of managing the L-V brand, how would you have approached this situation. Consider your brand had been involved instead, what would you have done and why?