Be like…Màikè’ěr·? Or not.

Ah, the many drawbacks of fame and fortune…

One of the most spectacularly successful examples of personal branding on the planet is: Màikè’ěr· Qiaodan.

What’s that? Never heard of him? That’s odd, because at least a billion other people know him very well. The know his soaring silhouette, his profile, his clothing, the number he wears on his back and — most of all — they know his shoes.

Still need help? Here’s a storefront, named after him:

MJ in Chinese

Qiaodan Store sign


Had your “Aha!” moment yet? Yep, almost all of the billion or so folks who know this wonderfully well-branded name live in — you guessed it! — China. And some of those clever Chinese have built a very lucrative brand of sportswear and footwear around that name. They are making a ton of money from that brand in that basketball-mad land, where it seems like local-boy-made-good-in-the-NBA Yao Ming looms majestically from just about every billboard and wall-poster in the biggest cities. Just like that other famous NBA guy, Màikè’ěr· Qiaodan. You know, Number 23 on the Chicago Bulls. That guy.

But, oddly, Màikè’ěr· Qiaodan himself (let’s just call him “MJ”, for short) isn’t getting in on the gold-rush of renminbi, even after several years’ of expensive legal efforts. Why is that? Well, the Chinese courts have decided (so far, anyway) that MJ only owns the trademark for his name in his own writing system, and not in the Chinese writing system. And some shrewd folks in China figured that quite a few more people would recognize the name (and, thus, the brand) if it were written in Chinese instead. So, MJ is free to hawk his AirJordans anywhere he wants across The Middle Kingdom, so long as he does it in his own alphabet. And the folks who own the Màikè’ěr· Qiaodan brand get to use it, royalty-free. Ouch!

So let this be your early admonition: if you’re planning to make yourself into a global brand (and, truthfully, isn’t that the open ambition of everyone who opens a Twitter/Facebook/Instagram account these days?), you might want to scoot over to Asia, lawyer up and quickly lock up all those many ways your name might be written, well before you actually do become a household name.

Or, you can be like Mike.

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