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Chris Jenkinson
Chris Jenkinson 16 April 2013
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Copycat Packaging: Legitimate Competition Or Unfairly Misleading?

The existence of copycat packaging is something that most consumers take for granted today but is it misleading?

Copying packaging designs is nothing new of course: for as long as marketing has existed there have been attempts to cash in on successful brand images by emulating their look. This issue now is whether it is going too far, and consumers are no longer able to tell the difference. The argument will centre on whether consumers and brand owners are being put at an unacceptable disadvantage.

 

But has it really gone too far?  The product testing and consumer campaigning group Which? said recently that a fifth of its members have bought an own-label product by mistake because it looked like a big brand. It uncovered a number of products in large chain stores such as Aldi, Asda, Boots and Morrisons, including crisps, biscuits, butter and toiletries.

 

Whilst this will come as no surprise to the majority of us, and is something we have simply learned to accept and work around, many might argue that it has gone far enough. British Brands Group director John Noble has recently hit out at ‘unregulated’ copycatting from a consumer perspective, arguing: “There is clearly an advantage to a copier doing this, a disadvantage to the consumer because they are being misled, and a disadvantage to the original company who is investing in the reputation in the first place, because their costs increase and their revenues fall. It is fairly clear who are the winners and losers.”

 

On the other side of the fence, retailers such as Boots or Tesco deny that there is anything dubious about their branding strategy. They insist that they comply with all intellectual property law and that their ‘copycat’ ranges do not put either consumers or the big brands at an unfair disadvantage.

 

In fact a spokeswoman from Boots said that the similarities in packaging design between their own lines and big brands are designed to help consumers with their choice. She said that “colourways” used in its own-brand products are “synonymous with certain active ingredients and so are an important cue in helping a customer navigate through their choices.”

 

But strong advocates of intellectual property argue that by neglecting to take decisive action on this issue, governments not just in the UK but across Europe are allowing an essential cornerstone of the economy to be eroded. Hence the recent call for action. It remains to be seen what, if any, effect this will have on the packaging we see on our supermarket shelves in the coming years.

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