US Retailer's Advertisements Banned
Sep. 24, 1999
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ In Germany, some guarantees are just too good to be true.
Threatened by the American catalogue company Lands' End money-back guarantee, no matter what, retail competitors took the company to Germany's highest court _ and won a ban on advertisements publicizing the deal.
Now, Lands' End is responding with a set of ads in German newspapers and magazines poking fun at the ban. There's a picture of a fly with the caption: 1-Day Guarantee. A washing machine, guaranteed 6 months.
And next to the Lands' End logo: ``Advertisement forbidden in Germany.''
The Dodgeville, Wis.-based company expanded overseas to England in 1993, Japan in 1994 and Germany in 1996, exporting along with its classic chinos and wool cardigans the guarantee that it will take back any of its products, any time, no questions asked, cash back.
Within a year of launching the German business, the company was being sued by an agency that monitors advertising claiming unfair advertisement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe, which banned the advertisements last month ruling the guarantee was ``economically unfeasible'' and therefore amounted to unfair competition.
The guarantee was not an issue either in Japan or England.
``It's difficult to understand from an American perspective. All we're trying to do is to offer the same service level in Germany that we offer everywhere else in the world,'' said Steve Bechwar, manager of Lands' Ends operations in Mettlach, Germany, opened in 1996.
The case is not the first time that American marketing savvy and German conservatism have clashed. In a previous instance, American producers of Tupperware were banned from advertising an unlimited guarantee, so they dropped theirs to 30 years to match Germany statute of limitations on lawsuits.
Zippo lighters avoided legal action by deciding to remove their lifetime guarantee from German packaging.
``It's fun in a way to watch Lands' End,'' said Philip Haleen, an American lawyer in Germany who has done work for Zippo. ``I've been here in Europe for a long time and there's a U.S. way of doing business and there's a German way of doing business.''
High-court decisions are final in Germany, and Lands' End is considering whether to appeal at the European Union-level.
But in the meantime, the company is trying to get the word out to its German customers any way it can _ such as the oblique print ads launched last week.
The company may be aided by the expanding world of electronic commerce, which seems to be quickly outpacing German law. Customers who log onto Lands' End German site can enter the U.S. site, where the guarantee is spelled out.
And, ironically, the ban has been good advertising.
In Britain, the company has run print ads proclaiming: ``A Guarantee so good the Germans banned it.''