Simon Coleman of Cape Town tweeted this pic recently: 'Wearing my 'faux lo' shirt today for April Fools Day'. This logo is registered to the company which trades as Polo South Africa, which has no links with the international brand Polo by Ralph Lauren.

Pretoria - Kyle of Durban is a very unhappy man.

A huge fan of the Polo brand, he has splashed out more than R14 000 on clothing bearing the polo pony logo: formal shirts, golf shirts, T-shirts, bags – even his wallet and cufflinks are Polo.

But since being tipped off about a Sunday newspaper report revealing that his clothing is made by Polo South Africa, and has absolutely nothing to do with the international brand Polo by Ralph Lauren, he’s no longer proud of his wardrobe.

“I did not see a ‘Polo South Africa’ logo anywhere on the items or in the shops I purchased from, and feel I have been completely misled,” said Kyle, who asked me not to use his surname.

“The actual brand was never clearly distinguished as different from the international Polo.”

That’s certainly true. Both logos appear to be the same, unless you see them together, which few people do.

It was back in September 2009 that reader Bernie McLoughlin spotted the difference and wrote to ask me about it.

“I am most curious to know why all the Polo clothing that Edgars sells has the horse logo facing to the right, whereas the copyright of the logo by the Ralph Lauren Corporation shows the horse facing to the left,” he said.

“Are the Polo items being sold in Edgars not in fact true ‘Polo’ registered clothing?”

And that’s when I did some investigation and discovered that the LA Group Limited registered its modified version of mounted polo player logo in the seventies, precluding Ralph Lauren from selling its Polo products in this market.

The LA Group told me at the time: “By agreement with Ralph Lauren in the US, Polo SA is the exclusive and acknowledged owner of the Polo trademarks in Africa.

“To differentiate the product, it was agreed that the Polo pony would face differently. Ralph Lauren agreed not to sell its Polo-label clothing in southern Africa.”

The thing is, most brand conscious South Africans had no idea that the clothes sold here in stand-alone Polo stores and in major retail outlets such as Edgars and Stuttafords had absolutely nothing to do with the global mega-brand.

“I would never have purchased the items if I knew we are being charged international prices for a local brand,” said Kyle.

But while the clothes are pricey by South African standards, they are noticeably cheaper than the international versions featuring the Polo pony galloping towards, rather than away from the shirt buttons.

And what of the quality issue, given that Ralph Lauren’s brand is perceived to be top quality?

“We are committed to delivering upmarket, quality branded clothing, footwear and accessories in both ladies’ and men’s wear and to maintaining our brand’s exclusive and premium reputation in the market,” the LA Group told me back in 2009.

Asked if he’d been happy with the quality of what he now knows to be Polo South Africa clothing, Kyle said he was, adding: “But I don’t have any idea how the quality compares with that of the original Polo brand”.

Given that there was no indication on the labels or tags that the Polo clothing he bought was in fact a product of “Polo South Africa”, Kyle wants to return every item for a refund.

I don’t rate his chances. The thing is, while he has every right to feel duped, Kyle’s clothes are not fakes. That polo pony may be a flipped version of Ralph Lauren’s Polo logo, but it’s a registered trademark, nonetheless.

And up to now, it’s got most of its perceived value by riding on the reputation of the famous one.

The issue throws into sharp focus what international marketing guru Martin Lindstrom says about the power of brands. Already by the 90s, he says, the brand itself took over from function as the main attraction of products.

In other words, what a brand stands for, and what it says about the buyer, has long since become more important than the function and quality of the product.

In his latest book, Brandwashed, Lindstrom quotes from a 2008 University of Minnesota study which found that the less confidence or self-esteem a student had, the more they seemed to be dependent on brands.

“One might conclude from this,” Lindstrom remarked, “that the larger the logo we wear, the less self-esteem we have.”

Something to ponder.

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