INTERNATIONAL: Lands’ End winks at German ruling

Lands’ End has turned a rebuke from German courts into a sales pitch. In September, Germany’s highest court ruled that the apparel cataloger was violating German law by offering customers an unconditional, unlimited guarantee. The law in question is a 1932 statute prohibiting companies from offering incentives with purchases, claiming that the practice creates unfair competition. The court ruled that Lands’ End’s unlimited guarantee, because it is not standard practice in Germany, constitutes such an incentive.

But while the ruling has stopped Lands’ End from advertising its guarantee in Germany, it hasn’t stopped the $1.37 billion cataloger from turning the incident into an international marketing campaign. In fact, the company has used the ruling to highlight its policy to German customers. Under German law, the company is still allowed to tell consumers about its guarantee – but only when asked about it. Print ads feature “big, black strokes covering the original wording [of the guarantee] with the words `Advertising not allowed by German courts,'” says Frank Kriegl, marketing director of the Dodgeville, WI-based mailer’s German division. “People phone asking, `What’s forbidden?'”

And in the United Kingdom, Lands’ End has ridiculed the German ruling with a series of print ads calling the company’s guarantee “so good, the Germans banned it.”

Although Lands’ End can’t say whether the ad campaigns have increased sales in Germany or the U.K., Kriegl says, “We’ve gotten a lot of media coverage, and there has been a huge number of newspaper, magazine, TV, and radio reports about Lands’ End Germany’s customer service. It’s gotten us very good brand recognition in the German market.”

Lands’ End will continue to use the ads in Germany and will continue to offer its “Guaranteed. Period” guarantee to German customers – albeit without promoting it.

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