DKNY Brand in Fix Over Alleged HONY Photo Snatch

dkny hony photo brand crisisFacebook friends just served up the latest brand faux pas a la DKNY allegedly using photos belonging to HONY—with neither permission nor payment—as part of a window campaign.

The story: street photographer Brandon Stanton, who runs the Humans of New York site, was approached by DKNY about purchasing some of his images for use in store windows all over the world.

According to Stanton’s blog post on the topic published this morning, he originally agreed to the DKNY rep’s offer of $15,000. Then, after talking with an industry friend, upped his asking price. He claims never to have heard from DKNY again with regard to the photos but was then alerted by a friend in Bangkok that his photos appeared in a window display there. The window display is in the image below:

brandon stanton dkny window

Image courtesy of Brandon Stanton

The Gothamist reported on this earlier today and their post showed an original photo by Stanton paired with a snippet of an image from the window display in Bangkok. It would appear safe to say these images, or at least some of them, belong to Mr. Stanton.

gothamist stanton dkny comparison

Personally, I don’t know anything about Brandon Stanton and have no way of knowing whether his allegation in this regard is true. What I can see, however, is that he’s a pretty awesome photographer and that he’s managed to build a Facebook community for HONY that’s some 561,000 friends strong. And that didn’t happen in the last day in the wake of this DKNY brouhaha.

His post about this on Facebook, as of this writing at 11:21 CST, has not surprisingly garnered some 23,000 likes, 26,000 shares and almost 3,000 comments. Heck, it might even be a trending topic on Twitter at this rate. But one thing that bothers me, both as an individual and as someone who spends a fair amount of time thinking about crisis communications as it relates to the social media space and also as an agency responsible for a fair amount of community management, is the speed at which this story is spinning and the hatred that’s being thrown at DKNY. After all, we don’t really have any proof of what happened, we just have one person’s word on this and his story. And I wonder when the veracity of an allegation in our society as a whole became irrelevant.

There are comments on Facebook about the DKNY Facebook community management team deleting posts at a fast and furious pace and my thoughts turn to what a nightmare having that job, at this very moment, might be like. I’m relatively certain that if it’s true that these photos were used without permission the person making that decision didn’t think to clue the community management team in on that. And they probably feel so completely and totally overwhelmed—and despised—right now.

In a recent discussion with some friends the other day about the Burger King/Jeep Twitter hackings, we came to a similar conclusion: the hatred and nastiness that’s invariably spewed as a result of various brand crises is disheartening.

On one hand, I can see why consumers and the public in general is upset and wants to fight the good fight for an alleged victim (sorry, we really don’t have all the facts in this instance, so with all due respect to HONY, let’s all be careful how quickly we jump on any bandwagon). But on the other hand, it makes my heart hurt a little to see the lashing out and the hatred.

The real measure, as people, as consumers, as brands, as community managers, is how we respond. At the very least, perhaps the DKNY team could or should post something along the lines of “We’re aware of what’s happening and appreciate your comments. We don’t have all the facts, but when we do, we’ll be responding here.”

But equally as important as asking for the facts is remember that we’re all just people. And piling on one another, be they brand or individual, says as much about us as it does about them. Or, like that old adage that we use with our children, two wrongs don’t make a right.

It’s entirely likely that Brandon’s work was swiped by DKNY and that stinks. He seems like a nice enough guy, and his request for a donation to the Bedford-Stuy YMCA to help city kids go to summer camp doesn’t seem unreasonable. In fact, if DKNY is guilty of using Brandon’s work without permission or compensation, that’s a pretty small price to pay.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Brands do bonehead things all the time, including unsavory things like stealing ideas and products and the like from people all the time. That’s nothing new. The added twist in today’s world is that when it happens, victims can take to the interwebs and make a big stink about it, which can do major damage.

If you were managing the DKNY brand at this very moment, what course of action would you take? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

UPDATE: DKNY has acknowledged the situation on both Twitter and Tumblr:

dkny apology tweet

The Tumblr post, pictured below, goes into more detail regarding what appears to be an unintentional mix-up:

dkny tumblr response to hony photos

Kudos to DKNY for going beyond a mere blanket apology and instead giving people insight into what happened. What I find interesting (and, truthfully, a little odd) from a brand perspective is the fact that DKNY’s social media is handled by an anonymous NYC PR gal, as detailed in their Twitter bio:

dkny twitter profile

Sure, you could argue that there’s typically an intersection between fashion and PR, especially in major cities like NYC–and DKNY isn’t the only fashion brand to be managed from the perspective of a PR girl. That’s not to say that more and more brands don’t have visible and vocal faces connected to them that have gained nearly as much recognition and notoriety as the brand itself. Yet for the “face” of a major brand like DKNY to be an anonymous PR girl living in NYC, well, that surprises me.

What about you?

Image: sylvar via Compfight cc

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  • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

    Uhhhhhh!! These avoidable PR lapses are the very things that scare brands or organizations AWAY from social, and it drives me crazy. This is why I continually advocate for Silo Implosion within companies. A social content team that is disconnected and silo-ed will run into these issues perpetually. I’m all for building content teams from across the company, with one foot in as many departments as possible.

  • Danielle Smith

    Shelly – I have to agree with you. The rate at which people ‘bandwagon’ these types of stories and the contempt lobbed – often at both sides – before all of the facts are known is often a mystery to me. Having been in the middle of a situation just like this, it is at once comforting to feel supported by a portion of the masses and extremely disconcerting to find yourself targeted by people who have the wrong information. The anonymity of the internet seems to rob many of the basic decencies we would exhibit in person. I am glad the brand responded… (and quite well, I might add) I do think complete silence just makes the situation worse.

  • Shame on DKNY

    I feel that those of us who have followed the photographer for years have no reason to doubt his story and understood his approach, as he avoids being a litigious person. The snarkiness of Aliza Licht, the anonymous DKNY PR GIRL, was a huge contributing factor to the animosity that was felt. Her passive agressive tweets, such as “isn’t this America, what happened to innocent until proven guilty” made me WISH the photographer had chosen the route of litigation. She spent the day alternately portraying herself as the victim and praising herself for the superb job she was doing. It appeared to me that DKNY readiky admitted guilt, but failed to make a credible apology – again, their VP of PR added the most fuel to the fire with her inflammatory tweets.

  • orianna fielding

    Interesting- as a young furniture designer exhibiting at the first 100% design show over 10 years ago , under my company name PURE I was thrilled when the DKNY team came onto my stand and asked for my marketing packs all beautifully designed with my PURE barcode designed logo saying they loved all my work…and then came back for more brochures. I followed up their visit after the show and drew a total blank from the contacts I had for DKNY. 6 months later DKNY launched PURE. At the time no one was or had been using that nameI felt totallly ripped off but as a young furniture designer it was a total David and Goliath situation -small designer huge monied corporation. I knew my name had been taken. But felt powerless to fight back as I hadn’t had the resources to trademark the name of my company. Coincidence- maybe , taking young creatives fresh iideas without permission- you decide. When I heard about the photos..it had such echoes for me, I felt I had to air this after all this time. It does make you wonder how many more designers have had similar experiences and felt powerless to challenge the large company ethos of ‘might is right.’ And just because we can approach. Newgen talent, original creativity should be supported and nurtured by big brands not viewed as a free ‘take all you can eat’ ideas buffet.

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