A view from Staff

The Marketing Society Forum: Do copycat brands reflect a lack of creativity in marketing?

Marks & Spencer appears to have joined the ranks of 'copycat' retailers, having been criticised for launching a product that bears striking similarities to Coca-Cola's Glaceau Vitaminwater.

YES - Dave Brown, UK chairman, The Brand Union

There is a limit to functional differentiation in packaging for many brands. If you take dairy products, as an example, they tend to have similar colour labels and follow the same category rules.

On the flip side of this, many trade brands enjoy a richer emotional equity, which gives them greater leverage in the hearts and minds of their consumers. This is why copycat or ROBS (rip-off brands) continue to appear in our supermarkets.

Copycat packaging most frequently occurs on the cheaper own-label or value range products that do not have the budget of brands, so borrow from existing brands and designs as a shortcut.

This is not a new trend and we will continue to see it for years to come. But as technology evolves, I'd like to see trade brands evolve their packaging strategy to make it harder for copycats.

Brands can protect their equity by establishing new codes of design, style and tone of voice that are sufficiently complex, ownable and demonstrate the depth of the brand.

YES - Don Williams, Chief executive, PI Global

Let's get down to basics: branding is about making money.

It's simple and cheap to copy - actually, let's call it what it is: steal - from a company, which has spent a fortune creating and building a brand by conning the consumer into, at best, feeling some halo effect from the real thing, or, at worst, buying it by mistake.

The poor brand-owner is between a rock and a hard place. Consumers don't read brand names in store, they recognise them through visual equity. That visual equity, of which the brand name visually has only a minor role to play, requires continual investment to be recognisable and memorable.

The real issue is the dilemma facing brand-owners, who have to choose between turning a blind eye and suing their biggest customers.

Yes, of course it shows a lack of creativity, but so what? I suspect the way they see it is that you can make money the easy way or the hard way.

MAYBE - Russell Abbott, Managing director, Synergis Marketing

As managing director of a consultancy that has helped to develop successful own-label ranges for companies such as Tesco, I can fully understand why retailers would want to emulate the existing success of brands. After all, copycat brands offer a lower risk, have proven popularity and require very little R&D. From an ROI perspective alone, the attraction is obvious.

However, what makes retailers such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer so popular is that their own-label ranges are pioneering, imaginative and push the envelope forward, not back.

Straightforward copycat brands are unimaginative and, furthermore, if a retailer does a 'me-too', it may backfire, as savvy consumers prefer the whole brand experience rather than an own-label imitation. After all, many buy into a brand's values, not just the product on sale.

At the end of the day, truly great marketing is about creating a unique proposition and owning that space, rather than mirroring what someone else is doing.

MAYBE - Nir Wegrzyn, Chief executive, Brandopus

Imitating an existing brand is a strategy employed by private-label brands that try to get close to the brand leader to switch consumers. One can understand why piggybacking on a success is so appealing, especially if you are able to provide a cheaper alternative.

Seducing consumers in this way could be perceived as a lack of creativity, but the real lack of creativity and responsibility must be placed with marketers and design agencies that allow clients' brands to be copied.

When designing a brand, the result must create a distinctive presentation that it is completely defendable. The identity must be clearly differentiated from competitors and the differentiation should not be at a generic and category level, as this kind of attention is momentary and not ownable.

A brand that uses generic language invites competitors to copy. Winning a 'passing-off' case is challenging. Don't give competitors the opportunity to try.


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