HONG KONG — A famous sportswear brand worn by the likes of the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his wife, the model Gisele Bündchen, has a savvy new competitor in one of its hottest markets, China.
Under Armour, say hello to … Uncle Martian.
The logos are almost identical. A stylized letter U with an inverted U directly beneath it. But unlike in Under Armour’s famous brand, the letters do not intersect. An A never gets formed. That leaves a U and what might pass for a humble lowercase n.
Still, the obvious resemblance has caused a sensation online in China, where the brand’s flashy rollout this week has been met with skepticism by increasingly savvy consumers, who appear to be tired of their country’s being associated with cheap copycat products.
China is where, only a few years ago, some enterprising people in one provincial city set up a fake Apple store, complete with the iconic logo. It is the home of the fast-food chain Yonghe King, whose logo once bore a striking resemblance to a certain colonel who hailed from the state of Kentucky.
The state news media identified the company behind Uncle Martian as an apparel manufacturer in Fujian Province, in southeastern China, called Tingfei Long Sporting Goods. No one at the 25-year-old company answered a phone number used in an annual report it had filed with the government.
Uncle Martian’s first foray into the athletic wear market is shoes.
One of its executives, Huang Canlong, said at a recent ceremony that the brand was going to be associated with “comfort, excellence and innovation,” according to a report published Thursday on the website shoes.net.cn. Mr. Huang said his aim was to create a “high-profile” brand with “high standards.”
Chinese consumers do not appear to be buying it. As incomes have risen, consumer tastes have changed. People want — and many can afford — the real thing. Under Armour, based in Baltimore, has been on a roll in China, with sales nearly tripling in the first three months of this year compared with a year earlier, according to Bloomberg News.
The online criticism has been biting.
One person who uses the handle “Diving Watcher” on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, was particularly scathing: “How come you can’t even design a logo, all you do is plagiarize, don’t you feel it’s disgusting?”
Another Weibo user, Zhang Gemeng, pointed out that such blatant copying went against the national policy of trying to encourage homegrown creativity.
“The Chinese have lost face, and don’t blame people when they say they look down upon domestic brands,” a user with the handle Luren MJC wrote.
Under Armour is also not amused.
“Uncle Martian’s uses of Under Armour’s famous logo, name, and other intellectual property are a serious concern and blatant infringement,” Diane Pelkey, a spokeswoman for Under Armour, said in an emailed statement. “Under Armour will vigorously pursue all business and legal courses of action.
What did appear a bit creative, at least, was the name Uncle Martian. Some speculated it might be trying to appeal to the popularity in China of the movie “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon. But that’s only the name in English. In Chinese, it is a mere transliteration of “Uncle Martian” — An Ke Ma Ting. The characters mean, roughly, “Encore Ma Sandbar.”
That does not appear to be a name conceived on Madison Avenue.