Copycat packaging – have you been fooled?

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McVitie’s vs Tower Gate digestives packaging

As new research by consumer group Which? finds that UK shoppers are annoyed by imitation products, Solopress ask if you’ve ever been misled by copycat packaging?

Copycat packaging has been a growing phenomenon with all the leading British supermarkets and high-street stores in recent years. Maybe you’ve spotted, or even been fooled by, this sneaky marketing technique already. It’s where retailers ‘borrow’ the easily recognisable packaging from big brand products – be it the overall design, fonts, colouring, wording, shape or size – for their (cheaper) own-label goods. Everything from McVitie’s Digestives and Radox bath gel to Lurpak butter and Monster Munch crisps have been mimicked by ‘brandjackers’ offering cheaper alternatives that look identical to your favourite brands – at first glance.

It’s a parasitic business practice that’s paying off. Every penny counts these days, as cash-strapped UK consumers try to balance their weekly budget against rising food prices. Let’s face it, Aldi have even run a TV advertising campaign using this very concept over the past 12 months.

Aldi. Like brands. Only cheaper.

 

Why is this a problem?

According to today’s Which? survey, shoppers are being confused by this increasingly sophisticated copycat packaging, and then going on to buy the supermarket versions by mistake. Moreover, of the fifth of Which? members who revealed they had experienced this problem, 30% felt misled and 38% were actually annoyed.

Preventing copycat packaging is one of the campaigns set up by the Alliance For Intellectual Property pressure group. “Copycat packaging adopts distinctive features of familiar branded goods in order to mislead the consumer,” explains the AFIP. “The copycat incurs none of the costs of investment that the brand has spent over years to build its reputation.”

It’s an issue that’s unlikely to go away until the lawyers for both sides have battled it out in the UK and European courts. In the meantime, here’s a bit of sagely shopping advice that you can always trust: buyer beware!

 

Brandjacking

Could you quickly spot the difference between these five lookalike products as you walk down the supermarket aisle?

Lurpak vs. Aldi Norpak butter

Lurpak vs Norpak packaging

Herbal Essences vs. Boots Fruit Essence shampoo

Herbal Essences vs Boots Fruit Essence packaging

Johnson’s Baby Softwash vs. Morrisons Baby body wash

Johnson’s vs Morrisons Baby packaging

Pimms vs. Jeeves (sold in Tesco and Lidl)

Pimms vs Jeeves packaging

McVitie’s Digestives vs. Tower Gate chocolate digestives

McVitie’s vs Tower Gate digestives packaging

Image Sources: Which?

36 COMMENTS

  1. if they can afford tv advertising they don’t need my money!
    i shop at all the supermarkets. sainsbury’s are the only ones that sell pickled gerkins WITHOUT added sugar. Aldi fresh baked bread white & brown is lovely & great value as are their packed meats. lidl are great for their bottled beers from 89 to 125p per bottle. Morrison’s are cheapest on pet food.
    i’ve not mentioned Tesco because after many years of loyalty they are just down right greedy.
    the time has come for everyone to start shopping around & change their shopping habits. i buy my pet food monthly. go to aldi or lidle 2-3 times a week for fresh produce, beers, wines & packed meats. i buy a whole pig annually direct from the producer at a cost of about £140 plus £20 for butchering, i use my local farm shop for chicken breasts 10 for £11.49 but today noticed Aldi doing 9 for £9.49. Aldi bacon is excellent @ £1.39 per pack but Morrison’s also do an excellent offer.
    it’t time we all shopped smarter & revert back to the days of our Grandmother’s & plan meals & plan our shopping

  2. I see here that a lot of people here really do not have a clue about marketing. It is not RIP OFF Britain. It is down to selling the product. If I was a company owner that sold a certain brand and with my company named packaging, and then another company came to and said. ‘Can I purchase an X amount of your brand from you, and my I have my packaging similar to the one I use? I would say yes of coarse you can. Simply I’m on a win win situation. WHY! because those who do not want that brand, they will buy mine, and if a customer does choose to buy my brand, but choose to buy similar that is cheaper. That company that bought from me will want to buy more of that product. Saving me money on the cost of me having my own packaging made. Look at the price not packaging. I would also like to add. For those that just want to moan about certain supermarkets from Germany, and go in to them blind, by not having a clue about their own brand produce/products. Then keep away from them and got to the supermarkets and buy your branded items and pay through the nose for them. Simple.

  3. Indeed, we do get caught out on copycat packaging. But I believe, we should all be more alert while purchasing these products. Since companies find out loopholes and work within legal boundaries, it takes ages to prove them wrong. So while we continue our fight against the copycats, we should keep our eyes and ears open. As all marketing guys will tell you: CAVEAT EMPTOR (Buyer Beware)!

  4. Surely, if you’re shopping in Aldi, you’re not likely to be there for ‘big branded products’ are you? Aldi is a foreign shop anyway, so what you may think is a ‘cheap’ brand, could very well be a big brand in the country that Aldi originated. I do find there’s a lot of brand snobbery these days. It’s often the same product in the carton/tin etc and very little taste difference. Would you go to a cafe, and request that they only use lurpak on your sandwich, make sure that the bread is only kingsmill, the bacon in your butty is only the best danish bacon? Very much doubt it. How many of these people complaining, would cringe at the thought of using a money off coupon in store?

    In a lot of cases I prefer the ‘own brand’ to the ‘big brand’ alternative. People obviously have a lot of spare cash to be spending extra £££’s on brand names. I buy smartprice ham – I prefer the taste, I buy Asda’s own brand milk, I prefer Asda’s version of ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’, I prefer Morrisons ‘Baked By Us’ wholemeal bread to brands – it keeps longer and is softer than it’s more expensive counterparts, I prefer Asda’s ‘Chosen By You’ teabags as opposed to big brands. There is very very little, if any, difference in taste and quality of the product and I’m 100% sure if there was any safety concerns, that the products wouldn’t be on the shelves in our shops. Each to their own, however, I do find it is snobbery at the best of times. Try living on a budget of £40 a week and then say that you think supermarket brands are ‘inferior’ to big brands. I have no store loyalty, no brand loyalty, I save pennies wherever I can, I shop around and buy what is on offer at that time. Yes, I do have brands in my cupboards, fridges and freezers, but only bought when on a reasonable ‘offer’ – ie Half price etc, example I love Bird’s Eye chargrills with the garlic and herbs, but I’ll only buy them on offer at £1 and stock the freezer with them, I wouldn’t pay £1.69 RRP for them. Welcome to Rip Off Britain!!

  5. I can actually see something GOOD in copycat labelling. Think about when you’re trying to quickly pick a holiday read in the airport shop. You know from a quick glance at the cover whether a book is going to be a thriller, a chick lit novel, historical fiction and so on. Well a copycat label will tell you at a glance whether the product is going to taste like Pimms or Crabbies, wash your dry hair or greasy hair and so on. So while they can be misleading if you aren’t paying attention, they can be very helpful to a savvy shopper.

  6. I think that if people had the cheaper product in their house, then, at a glance, most visitors wouldn’t notice the difference when the packaging is similar. Some people react badly to the pure white savers packaging on basic products sold by supermarkets. The similar packaging would stop it from ‘feeling cheap’.

  7. The copycats are proving one (or both) of two things. 1) they have no creativity and/or 2) they are fraudulently trying to pass their products off as something else. This is extremely poor marketing at the best of times, but has the possibility that it ends with fatal consequences, if the product differentiation is insufficient for a product that has lethal side affects (even if only amongst a small number of people).

  8. I think it would be very easy to pick up the wrong brand when in a hurry but I wonder if the manufacturers are not trying to get people to buy things by mistake but instead are just working on a more subliminal level of trying to reassure people that their copycat brand is as good as the top brands. I think this copycatting is quite interesting…we are seeing this more and more through the internet in our industry where people are using other manufacturers product details to piggyback on search engines etc. Very strange times!

  9. I don’t see the issue with this, its hard enough getting a product to markets because of the monopoly of many of the consumer products, so all effort should be respected. At least we have the choice at the end of the day

  10. Very interesting article. My partner and I have noticed this happening more and more when doing the weekly shop. It’s annoying and deceptive, I really don’t think it should be allowed.

  11. Hmm I understand the frustration when retailers like Boots and Sainsburys do this – I don’t count that Morrisons example as the only similar thing about it is a pink bottle, which for baby products is kind of a general thing.

    However, Aldi and Lidl? They can’t be misling their customers when they promote ‘brandjacking’ so heavily and blatantly in their advertising. I expect the products in their to not be the popular brand. Recently they’ve started stocking branded products which actually confuses me more!

    You want the product cheaper? That’s how you’ll get it cheaper.

    Also the more that people start to think about what they’re buying the better. I used to work for a well known health, beauty and drugs retailer and the amount of people that buy things like branded plasters and paracetamol when they are exactly the same as value brand just befuddles me.

    Think before you buy.

  12. A lot of the problems seem to stem from cheap Asian knockoffs. I’ve also been burned by fakes bought off eBay. Gotta be real careful buying online.

  13. I’m noticing this more and more in some of the bigger supermarkets. I keep being caught out because the packaging used is so similar to the popular brands. I know I should be more careful, but its not always easy when you are in a hurry!

  14. The big store groups copying in my opinion is simply to fleece shoppers who are not paying attention because they may be in a hurry , harassed or just tired. Shame on them.

  15. This is such a big problem and kind of creepy that copy cat designers have noticeably copied package design with the full intent to fool consumers. It’s interesting to note that companies buy space on shelves especially at eye level to get the unaware shoppers to entice to buy. My advice is to look high/look low.

  16. On the other hand you could say that the packaging helps you to identify the own brand equivalent of the branded product, should you wish to buy the own brand.

  17. Never been fooled, but it has been very close. I don’t think it is fair to copy products so closely. If a company has a good product it should sell under its own merits. I think I avoid “rip offs” more than any cheap product

  18. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference to be honest. Here’s a tip, if you’re inside aldi, chances are, its an aldi brand product… pay attention people..

  19. I have done this a few times towards the end of a big shop when I just want to get out of the shop. I end up throwing the first thing that looks like my usual brand into the trolley. I notice at checkout, but can’t be bothered to go back and change it. I have found a lot of these cheaper brands just as good as the more expensive ones anyway.

  20. I can see that this can hoodwink people, if they’re in a rush for example, but I also think that they are saying this is a cheaper version of that product and using the packaging as an aide-mémoire. If you want product A but are on a tight budget then product B has probably been made to be a close copy. In some cases they might even be made by the same people in the same place.
    If you look at the item then it is obvious which is the branded item. I wonder if it’s so clear without the packaging though. I am interested in the results of the taste tests that are shown on tv. They often don’t find in favour of the brand so then it would seem people are just paying for the marketing anyway. A good brand shouldn’t be too concerned as their product would be of superior quality so customers would be loyal even if they tried another on occasion.
    I choose to buy some brands and I choose to buy some own brand products. I have tried and tested them and where I have found little difference I buy the own brand.
    Choice is important and if you shop mindfully then it shouldn’t be a problem.

  21. I think you definitely have to have your wits about you when supermarket shopping these days. The old saying is certainly true in that you get what you pay for.

  22. Interesting article!

    I’ve been caught out a couple of times with these copycats. If you’re in a hurry then you don’t tend to notice too much what you are picking up, especially if they are in the same area you normally buy from.

    I picked up a shampoo and found it was of a less quality than the normal brand, annoying having to buy another one when it hasn’t done it’s job properly, especially when on a tight budget!

  23. It’s more worrying that people buy these products thinking they are the ‘real’ thing. They are similar, but a long way from identical.

  24. This is really interesting so many copy cats thank you for this it’s opened my eyes have a lovely day! 🙂

  25. I have been fooled once when in a hurry, if the prices vary by a lot then you usually look twice to make sure it is the real Mc Coy but the worst thing is if you are just trying to save a couple of pennies then you take it for granted the product is real. The copycats have caught on and charge a price near to the big brand to avert your attention, making you think that the lesser brand would not cost so much.

  26. I read about this earlier today and it got me wondering why there is the need to look like the brand, is it to make people think its the same one or simply because people recognise certain designs as being for a product so it will draw their eye on the shelf? I have never inadvertently picked up a product thinking it was something else but I can see how it would be done.

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