Fake News: Samsung China’s Deal With Supreme “Knock-off” Spurs Drama

Uh-Oh. Yet another non-Chinese global brand has made a big marketing misstep in mainland China. (Unless the “mistake” is all a ploy to get publicity.)

Chinese fashionistas were startled today by tech giant Samsung’s announcement at a Galaxy A8s phone launch in Beijing that it was partnering with super-hot luxury streetwear brand Supreme. Samsung said they plan to release their first collaborative item in 2019.

Chinese fashionistas were startled today by tech giant Samsung’s announcement at a Galaxy A8s phone launch in Beijing that it was partnering with super-hot luxury streetwear brand Supreme. Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The problem?, at least in many Chinese netizens’ eyes: Samsung isn’t talking about the New York-based streetwear brand Supreme, but an unaffiliated Supreme Italia competitor. The original Supreme recently lost a lawsuit in Italy alleging counterfeiting against the upstart.

Supreme U.S. issued a statement: “Supreme is not working with Samsung… these claims are blatantly false and propagated by a counterfeit organization.”

Was Samsung fooled or savvy? Samsung China’s digital marketing manager, Leo Lau, wrote on Weibo: “We are partnering with Supreme Italia, not Supreme U.S. The latter does not have a legal authorization to sell and market in (China), but the Italian [company] has acquired the rights in the APAC region.”

In other words, Samsung China is apparently endorsing the legality of Supreme Italia, a copycat from Italy that was founded by a company that Supreme alleges took advantage of the lack of legal terms around Supreme’s trademark in Italy.

Thanks to the viral nature of Supreme branding, the move has so far succeeded in creating buzz around the South Korean electronics and appliances brand, which has been bleeding market share, driving tons of discussions on Chinese social media. On Weibo, the topic has been viewed over 19 million times.

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The Samsung press conference saw a Chinese man identified as the CEO of Supreme talk about the brand’s expansion plan in the country. According to him, Supreme will open a seven-floor flagship store at Beijing’s Sanlitun district and host its first-ever runway show at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena Cultural Center in the first half of 2019.

Critics flocked to Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform to tell Samsung that they were endorsing a fake.

“Samsung must have been fooled by this man and his knock-off brand,” a user with the top comment under the Samsung post wrote. “What this guy is wearing is a fake Supreme product. The brand has never made this piece before!” Another writer urged the company to leave China and wondered if Samsung thought China consumers “would fall for this? Do they think we don’t care if it’s real?”

Even though it is not rare to see fake Supreme collaborations in China given the country’s loose legal system, the apparent endorsement of what some see as counterfeiting from a well-established international brand like Samsung is still shocking.

Maybe some statistics tip off Samsung’s motive: in the fourth quarter of 2017, Samsung’s smartphone market share in China has dropped to 0.8 percent from 20 percent in 2012, according to the market research agency Strategy Analytics. The brand is looking to grab the attention of Chinese consumers — a trending name like Supreme, whether it is real or not, seems to be a perfect target.

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