NEWS: Lookalike battle too close to call

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 action.

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

action.



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

marked.



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

be ducked.



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.



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