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Bad Brand Behavior: Why I Won’t Buy Lip Ink and Hope You Won’t Either

Lip Ink International is a company that makes a brand of lip stain. This past week they did something I personally view as a trademark bullying by sending trademark infringement notices to a number of bloggers for having the term “lip ink” on their sites. In many cases it involved a reference, often in a reader comment, to a Sephora product that once used the term in the name (Sephora has since changed the name of their product to reference “lip stain”). So my guess is that Lip Ink wants to erase any confusion about the Sephora products. OK, fair enough, but in my opinion, there was not any trademark infringement on the part of the bloggers with that, and sending a cease and desist letter was a rather overboard reaction to a mention of a product in an old reader comment. But here is the real kicker. In one case, they sent a cease and desist to Temptalia, probably the most influential beauty blogger in existence, over a mention of Lip Ink’s own product with a link to their own site. Now that is absolutely not trademark infringement at all. Then, they offered up product to review. Huh? Now why would a blogger cover their product if they will turn around and consider a mention of it trademark infringement? In my opinion, it is idiotic. I also wonder what their motivation was with that one. The comment was not entirely positive, and it is not unheard of for companies to try tossing around trademark or defamation claims over negative reviews (see this blog post for more on that). But it wasn’t entirely negative either.  Ultimately I have no idea what Lip Ink’s motivation actually was.

Here is the text of the offending comment on Temptalia:

lipink comment 600x219 Bad Brand Behavior: Why I Wont Buy Lip Ink and Hope You Wont Either

Here is a snippet of the the cease and desist letter sent to various bloggers

lip ink CD Bad Brand Behavior: Why I Wont Buy Lip Ink and Hope You Wont Either

It reminded me of when Chi accused me of trademark infringement. If you want a tutorial on why it is not infringement, look there or here is a handy little overview of trademark law. I won’t repeat it all here. The short version is that to be infringement it would have to lead a person to believe that the blog was representing itself as being Lip Ink or sponsored by Lip Ink so as to cause commercial confusion. That wasn’t the case in any of the instances that I saw. To the extent lip ink was seeking to enforce things in relation to Sephora, its best course of action would be against them, although that also appears to be moot since Sephora changed the name of their product.

Anyway, my bigger concern is what is in my opinion an incredibly stupid action to take in regard to marketing. By sending what in my opinion are highly questionable cease and desist letters to bloggers who are well connected, all the company did was assure that many influential voices will want nothing to do with them. Offering products to review on the heels of such a thing doesn’t soften it. Instead it just makes the whole thing even more bizarre.

For example, Pink Sith, who received the letter in regard to a link to another blog on this post
http://www.pinksith.com/2014/02/have-you-been-wondering-about-em.html changed the reference to “lip stain,” and informed the company that she would never work with them and found the offer to send product at the end of their threatening letter completely unprofessional and laughable. That would have been my reaction as well. I have yet to see a blogger who received the letter have any reaction other than stating there is no way in hell they would ever work with this company now.

I get rather angry when companies behave this way. As an attorney, I get panicked emails from bloggers from things like this. To people who are unfamiliar with the law, a cease and desist letter can be a very scary thing. That is why I am writing about it. I don’t want companies to get away with this type of behavior.

What could Lip Ink have done instead? Well, instead of sending cease and desist letters based on what I think were likely incorrect trademark claims, they could have sent a nice letter stating something like this: “Hey, we noticed that you have a comment on your site referring to an old Sephora product with the term “lip ink.” We are trying to clear up confusion between our trademarked product and Sephora’s product. We would really appreciate it if you would edit the reference to something like “lip stain” instead of “lip ink.” We also would love to send some of our products as a thank you for your help.”

Now doesn’t that sound better than the letter shown earlier? What do you imagine the bloggers’ responses would have been to that? I’m pretty sure I for one would not be writing this and recommending that people stay far away from Lip Ink and their products. Instead, now I won’t ever buy this product. I hope that you don’t either.

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Comments

  1. The best part about this whole thing is that even though Temptalia doesn’t work as a lawyer, she does have a JD. It was really interesting to hear her take on it as well. You’re so correct that this is bullying. This is a small brand, and they just did themselves a HUGE disservice by taking this tact. Your alternative would have gotten them a lot of good will and reviews around the web.

  2. Yes, I was amused that they sent it to Temptalia since, with her legal training, she would see it for what it was right away. And of course the fact that beauty bloggers are well networked meant that huge numbers of bloggers were aware of this before I wrote about it. It is a good example of a brand going overboard trying to protect something and ending up harming themselves.

  3. Thank you for writing this. The fact that Lip Ink didn’t approach this a different way, like the way you mentioned, shows why this company isn’t better known. I was actually one of their first customers years ago when they first premiered. Now I don’t know if I would ever cover them on my blog, let alone buy any of their products.

  4. I’d like to know what makes bloggers responsible for what a commenter says. I’m sure many bloggers did feel quite threatened by this and if they don’t have someone to ask about it, it would terrify them. A brand’s reputation should be more important than a mention by a reader about something they actually liked!

  5. Thank you for writing this. It’s too bad the brand didn’t do what you suggested. I want nothing to do with a bully like this.

  6. I question why these brands think that bloggers will tolerate any sort of bullying, coercion, etc. I mean, individually targeting bloggers, individuals who have a voice and are obviously generating their own content to express that voice, is such a poor decision I’m not sure why the brands keep doing it. It’s a shame to see it happen again and again (and always to those with a legal mind!).

  7. NORAH LOVES MAKEUP says:

    I, too, think is despicable behavior and will never work with that brand. Thank you for posting all this info, good to know for future.

  8. Brava! Thank you for writing this. I remember your interaction with CHI because I had recently done a (positive) review of one of their products, but I was afraid i would get a letter from them and took it down…before I put it back up, lol. Companies need to realize that hearing from consumers — both the good and the not so good — is important for them. I am a focus group moderator and market researchers, and I’m always surprised when clients don’t want to believe or even hear any negative feedback from consumers. The smart ones, however, do want to learn what their customers say and use that feedback to make adjustments.

  9. Great post! I´ll probably never ever buy any Lip Ink products, because what they did is just so wrong!

  10. I wonder what will pop up in your inbox after they find this one ;)

  11. Miranda, I have wondered that myself. If they are simply grabbing any mention of themselves on the web without reading and then sending C&Ds to those, I very well could get one.

  12. I saw this inline and couldn’t help but wonder if they lost their minds over there. How are they planning on building blogger relations and a good name for themselves if they’re threatening everyone? There really is a nicer and better way of going about keeping the term ink for themselves. Be careful or they may even threaten you for posting something bad about them (freedom of speech people)- kidding here by the way.

  13. Hopefully a lot of people will read this and not purchase from this brand.

  14. I would hope that after reading this great post, they will take your suggestions on how it would be very easy to politely contact bloggers! The first time I read about this, I was shocked that they would actually do that to Temptalia!!

  15. Thanks for the heads up. They will never get business from me!

  16. Jess Scull says:

    wow! Will never buy / review them on my blog after this!

  17. I don’t even know what to say. This is absolutely ridiculous of them. So let me get this straight: they’re trying to C&D bloggers that use the term “lip ink”? Are they out of their damn minds?

  18. I thought this was absolutely ridiculous when I first heard it. They’re definitely reaching when trying to enforce their trademark, and the comment on Temptalia was a honest representation of them so I don’t understand why they’d want to hide that and then backfill it with offering product? Insanity. They are definitely on my blacklist!

  19. How can bloggers be responsible for what people write in their comments? That is like saying newspapers are responsible for the “letters to the editor” that they receive. Even so, the comment was in no way infringing on trademark. What next, Q-tips saying we cannot use the term anymore?
    What adds to the confusion is that several branches of Sephora across the world still sell the “Rouge Infusion Lip Ink” branded as such, with the original packaging – in Sephora Middle East (I picked up mine from one of the Dubai outlets), Singapore, India and Malaysia. I wonder what on earth I am going to call it when I review it, though! Maybe photograph it and say the name has since been changed?

  20. I would call it lip stain in the writing then maybe try to avoid showing the label when photographing it. Although really Lip Ink’s beef should be with Sephora, not with bloggers covering the Sephora product.

  21. I’m staying far far away from Lip Ink & anything they endorse or sell. Even though a C&D letter for a reader comment is absolutely hilarious, I have no time to even deal with that type of drama.

  22. Anastasia says:

    This is beyond ridiculous! And to go as far as to threaten Temptalia, they really must be out of their minds over there. Thank you for sharing this, I will definitely never work with this brand or buy their products.

  23. Thanks for your thorough writeup/advice. I’m not familiar w/ Lip Ink and I’m not interested to try their products due to this untoward incident.

  24. Betzy Carmona says:

    This article is very helpful

  25. Can’t wait to see if they follow up with you on this.. and offer you product to review! They could have caught a lot more flies with honey than with the vinegar they used, that’s for sure.

  26. I’ve never heard of Lip Ink until this blew up. I tend to stay far, FAR away from a company with such questionable tactics.

  27. I’m so glad for bloggers like you who stand up for the blogging community! There are too many companies out there trying to bully everyone.

  28. Thats just horrible. i will never support them now.

  29. Thank you so very much for this post. I really want to know what brands are thinking when they send out C & D letters – it’s just ridiculous.

  30. I think I will stay away from this brand. That’s really ugly behaviour.

  31. I have never heard of Lip Ink before seeing and hearing about their behavior in the last 2 weeks or so. That is just terrible.

  32. thank you for writing this, very well said as usual!

  33. Yeah this is definitely wrong & bullying. Absolutely ridiculous & not a smart PR move.

  34. Thank you for writing this. Hopefully this will get back to them.

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