There's a story that's now circulating in the automotive world that puts Ferrari in a bad light. The company has supposedly tried to get a loyal customer to stop posting pics of his Ferrari 812 Superfast on Instagram, even threatening to sue, giving him just 48 hours to take his photos down. While that's technically true, nobody covering the story has yet mentioned the word that is most relevant to the matter. That word is Fila.
Confirmation bias is when we believe something to be true because it aligns with what we already believe about the subject. The Ferrari company has had a reputation as imperious and haughty since Enzo ran the place with an iron first. Many of the exotic car maker's actions seem to confirm that reputation, so it's understandable that when the law firm of Orsingher Ortu sent German fashion designer Philipp Plein a cease and desist letter about his Instagram posts, automotive journalists came down hard on Ferrari. However, they have made it sound as though the issue mostly has to do with Plein's vulgar aesthetic taste and his preference for incorporating swimsuit-clad models in his photo shoots.
Since the cease and desist letter does indeed mention “pictures with a lifestyle totally inconsistent with Ferrari's brand perception,” and “sexual innuendos,” it's also understandable that critics would point out that statement's own inconsistency with Ferrari's over-the-top and ostentatious brand image. It may be understandable, but it's not being fair to Ferrari. This case is about shoes, not bikinis. The stuff about the models and lifestyle is just window dressing, piling on to make Plein look bad.
Plein is described in the stories as a fashion designer, although it appears that his specialty is not haute couture but rather that he literally puts his name on $5000 sequined high-top sneakers that he likes to photograph with his exotic cars. Plein is playing the victim and refuses to take down the offending images.
Replying via a post on Instagram, Plein said, “I bought my first FERRARI 10 years ago and recently I bought a Ferrari for my mother as her birthday gift !!!! I think it is absolutely ridiculous as a good client to receive such a letter from a company like FERRARI !!!”
What the stories and Plein don't say is that Ferrari is most likely going after Plein because it has to protect its relationship with shoe and apparel maker Fila. For more than two decades, Fila has been Ferrari's licensee for producing Ferrari-branded clothing and footwear. By the early 2000s, Fila was already selling a quarter billion dollars a year worth of Ferrari-licensed goods, and the licensing deal with the apparel company continues to be an important part of Ferrari's revenue stream.
Ferrari may think that Plein is tacky and vulgar, but there appears to be a sound legal basis for its complaint.
As Ferrari's lawyers put it, “In these pictures, Ferrari's trademarks are used again for promotional purposes of your brand and products, unlawfully appropriating the goodwill attached to them.”
You might ask, “What about all the advertisements with exotic cars? Lamborghini doesn't threaten advertisers who use its cars to dress up their ads.” That may be true, but Lamborghini also doesn't do nine figures worth of business with a shoe company.