To protect the brand, a company restricts how you use a product

As any marketing expert will gladly tell you, it’s all about the brand.

Companies invest millions in creating images for their name and woe to those who threaten it.

Now, a new strategy is emerging in the efforts to protect a company’s brand: a crackdown on how you use a product.

It’s happening in the field of general aviation, although it’s not to hard to see such a strategy expanding should it become successful.

The Icon A5 amphibious aircraft has attracted a long line of people willing to drop a $5,000 deposit. Why? Because, even though its price has ballooned as it’s been developed, it’s a rare bird: It’s considered affordable, a possible Holy Grail of a dying industry.

It’s also near impossible to stall and spin the aircraft, one of the most common causes of general aviation accidents.

In recent weeks, the company has mailed out its agreements and requirements to depositers, and it goes “much further than any known manufacturer contract in regard to control over how their product is used,” the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association reported today.

Why dictate how the aircraft can be used and to whom an owner can resell it in the future? Plane crashes and lawsuits are bad for the brand.

“I have no interest in running a business that’s barely trying to get by and pander to customers,” CEO Kirk Hawkins told AOPA. “We’re not trying to monitor your life … [we are] trying to make the industry safer and more responsible.”

According to AOPA, the life of the plane is capped at 30 years (many airplanes flying now are much older than that), and buyers not only can’t sue the company, they have to pay to defend the company if there’s a third-party lawsuit.

Icon’s contracts are designed to be permanently attached to each A5, even if it changes hands, with those who purchase an A5 required to convince future owners to sign the same agreements should the airplane be sold or otherwise transferred (always subject to Icon’s approval), and pay Icon $5,000 if they fail to do so. Owners must pay $2,000 to Icon, in either case, for the privilege of selling their A5, a “transfer fee” found on page 11 of the 17-page purchase agreement.

The purchase agreement also limits the life of the aircraft to 30 years, requiring an airframe overhaul at 10 years or 2,000 hours, whichever comes first, with no more than two such overhauls allowed. An engine overhaul is mandatory at 2,000 hours or 15 years, whichever comes first; the airframe parachute must be repacked every five years; and the rocket that deploys the parachute must be replaced every 10 years.

Buyers must agree to give Icon the option to buy the aircraft back if they decide to sell, at a price capped at the initial purchase price, even if another buyer has offered more money, and Icon retains the right to void any future sale.

Hawkins is unapologetic about the requirements.

“All it’s doing is trying to put the responsibility where it belongs,” Hawkins said. “We believe in extreme personal responsibility … we also believe that the vast majority of people actually believe that, too. If you don’t like that philosophy … we don’t want a relationship with you.”