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Louis Vuitton Revisited: What Web 2.0 Can Learn from Luxury Brands

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Louis Vuitton Mallatier has been getting a lot of press for its efforts to build and protect its intellectual property. While many pooh-pooh Louis Vuitton's extensive litigation efforts as being misguided, the results are hard to argue with. Nadia Pleisner's inappropriate use of Vuitton IP has been shut down (the Facebook page has been disabled and she has published a statement on her web site) and even giant Google has been taken to task, again: The Paris District Court forbade Google and its French subsidiary from selling search ads against trademarks owned by Louis Vuitton.Google was also ordered to pay 200,000 euros, or $257,430, for unfair competition, misleading advertising and trademark counterfeiting, reports CNET.

So why should Web 2.0 companies care? The idea that Louis Vuitton is wrong is based on the premise that awareness (or eyeballs) continue to be more important than revenue.

That premise leads people to believe that Louis Vuitton should take the high ground whenever someone attempts to link their brand to a controversial issue. The argument is that if Louis Vuitton gets engaged in the issue - through sponsorship of workshops, through education, through advocacy - it will somehow advance their brand.

That same premise leads people to believe that every Google search for "Louis Vuitton" creates greater value for the brand and the company.

After spending years in this area -- I was a member of the IAB committee that established the standard terms and conditions for Internet advertising, and have worked and blogged extensively about Louis Vuitton -- I'm led to the conclusion that Louis Vuitton is doing a much better job at helping its retailer network make money than Google does.

As social networks and Web 2.0 apps alike try to court third parties, many like Microsoft program manager Dare Obasanjo and former Palm CTO Michael Mace are starting to make the argument that if your company has an API, you need to do a better job of showing developers how they're going to make money.

This is the difference between Yahoo and Microsoft right now: Yahoo is doing a bang up job of opening itself up, but its efforts at showing how Panama was going to make money for advertisers, or showing how third parties can make money off of Yahoo's search services in general, pale in comparison to Microsoft's ability to mint millionaires (through real revenues, not appreciation of stock) -- some 10,000 by the year 2000, according to a NY Times article.

Meantime, Google does help people make money through its advertising system, but the way it's currently designed, it does a much better job at creating visibility for Louis Vuitton knockoffs, who used to be confined to seedy places like Canal Street in New York but have found a terrific platform for visibility in Google.

At the same time, Louis Vuitton is building on other initiatives that one wouldn't expect from a house of couture. AdAge reports that on the 10th anniversary of launching its line of local city guides (which I covered earlier here), it contracted with Soundwalk, a company specializing in audio guides, to produce three tours of Chinese cities. This is a natural evolution of custom publishing, or brands using the Internet to become de facto media brands unto themselves.

According to a Louis Vuitton spokesman:

"[It] is a new concept in urban tourism, and we really want to offer a new way of traveling to our customers ... with China hosting the Olympic Games in 2008, it was natural for Louis Vuitton ... to open its Louis Vuitton Soundwalk series with a trilogy of Chinese cities."

Beginning June 16, the tours will be available as downloadable MP3 files (via louisvuittonsoundwalk.com). They will be sold exclusively online for $17 each, and are available in English, French, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin.

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