Policing brands – who wins?

There have been some striking examples of over zealous Olympic brand policing hitting the headlines recently. Earlier this month, Olympic chiefs reportedly told the mother of an injured soldier that she could not wear a charity wristband for Help for Heroes while she ran the Torch Relay. A cafe owner in Camberwell was allegedly ordered to take down the 5 bagels arranged in the Olympic style from her window display. In Norfolk, reports in the press concerned an 81 year old grandmother asked to remove dolls from the Church charity sale because she had knitted them white jumpers with team GB and the Olympic rings logo underneath. These may be silly examples but when does passing off a ‘copycat’ product become a real headache for the companies who own the leading branded goods and invest large sums of money in developing their products?
Recent research commissioned by The British Brands group has shed some light on the extent of the problem. They studied the buying behaviour of 1,000 people and found that a third of them admitted they had accidentally picked up a similar looking product as they shopped rather than the intended branded product. Amongst the younger generation mistakes were higher – up to 54%. When we are shopping for something we buy regularly this becomes a ‘semi-automatic’ response so we take less care to place the correct item in our shopping trolley.
This year another study* using neuroscience techniques found that consumers are still mistakenly buying copycat supermarket brands including shampoo, energy drinks and toothpaste. When people are asked to pick out a particular product from a range in different packaging styles and colours this is easy. As the products being tested become more similar in colour and design the task of differentiation becomes increasingly complex and so more mistakes occur.
For a company selling branded goods the problems are obvious. A cheaper food or drink may not have the same texture and taste. An own label shampoo may not work as effectively. Customers may begin to associate poorer performance with the branded product. However it is often difficult in practice for companies to take action, despite legal protection, as the larger supermarkets are also their biggest customers and they risk damaging a good working relationship. The law is also complex and so it would be expensive to take this route of redress.
So what is it practical and possible for an SME company to do?
There are steps businesses can take to protect their brand identity, which include copywriting their work, registering intellectual property, using non disclosure agreements (NDA’s) or joining a trade body. If in doubt, seek out some professional advice so that you won’t need to deploy the brand police at a later date.
Happy marketing