Lookalike design is an issue that refused to go away. Three years ago,
this magazine was devoting much of its news space to the constant battle
between manufacturers and retailers over own-label products that looked
a little too like their manufacturer equivalents for comfort. There were
harsh words from designers and brand owners, and threats of court
Eventually, and to the great relief of many who had become thoroughly
fed up with reading about the issue, a settlement was reached.
The Institute of Grocery Distribution gave its name to a voluntary code
to ensure that lookalike disputes are settled amicably.
It seems that agreement is falling apart. Kellogg is taking a robust
line over what it sees as lookalike cereal products from Tesco. The IDG
code has failed to prevent the argument from being exposed, with Kellogg
making the uniqueness of its product a corner-stone of its advertising.
Certainly some of the design cues on the Tesco pack are reminiscent of
Kellogg. But we can expect to hear the same argument now as we did two
years ago: the leading brand in a sector will inevitably set the
‘standard’. Consumers expected colas to be red, so Sainsbury’s followed
suit with its Classic Cola. In the event, as we recall in our analysis
in this issue, Sainsbury’s backed down and changed its cans. The real
answer for brand owners is to develop packaging that can be trade
This week, we reveal that Coca-Cola is taking that policy a step further
with the introduction of a can that uses its unique trade marked bottle
design. It’s a move made possible by British Steel, which sees a big
market in unconventional materials.
Inevitably, Virgin is rumoured to be following Coke with a ‘Pammy’ can
to go with its Pamela Anderson shaped PET bottles. It’s a fair bet that
the men from Atlanta will be looking closely at the can to make sure
it’s not too close - and equally inevitable that retailers will look
hard at how their own cans can be changed to mirror what they might
argue is a new ‘sector standard’. This time, though, the trade mark laws
are tougher and the IDG sticking-plaster has worked loose, so we could
be in for a full-scale battle.
Depressing though that possibility may be, it’s not something that can
As Winston Fletcher says in his column this week, brand owners have no
divine right to consumer preference over own-label. It must be earned,
and the look and feel of a product is a vital part of the process.