The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

March 1, 2006
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The Sincerest Form of Flattery?
Jennifer Acevedo, Editor-in-Chief
It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And for years, private label brands have used this strategy to compete with their national brand counterparts: mimic the look of the package, mirror the name of the brand and offer a lower price point. I have to admit that I’ve had a chuckle or two at the creativity of some of these “me too” offerings (“Panburger Partner”, a store brand alternative to General Mills’ Hamburger Helper, comes to mind).
But brand owner Procter & Gamble is not amused with such tactics. In fact, the CPG giant has just filed its third lawsuit in as many months against private label “copycat” packaging. “There are more coming. We spend a lot of time and money creating our brands and [the] equity of our brands,” P&G vice chairman of global operations Bob McDonald told Reuters recently.
P&G contends that this “me too” packaging infringes on the brand’s trade dress. In the first suit, settled with McLane Co. in February, Procter alleged that McLane’s packaging mimicked four of P&G’s brands, including Charmin and NyQuil. McLane, which denies the allegations, nevertheless agreed to redesign the packaging of its products.
Most recently, and in a case that is still pending, Procter alleges that Vi-Jon “infringed and diluted the unique trade dress of P&G’s Crest Pro-Health”. The lawsuit cites specific aspects of the Crest packaging, including P&G’s distinctive “faceted diamond” bottle shape and the shape, metallic finish and general color scheme of the label.
“Conduct from private label manufacturers that can mislead consumers cannot be tolerated. P&G invests heavily in research, development, and intellectual property and design, and must protect that investment,” says Diane Dietz, general manager, P&G North America oral care.
What does this heightened sensitivity to so-called “copycat” packaging tell us? Brand owners are beginning to recognize that packaging is not a cost, but an investment in brand identity. Packaging is more than a gold foil stamp on a cosmetics box or vivid 10-color label on a new beverage offer. It is a strategic marketing tool and a vital component of the marketing mix. Are you making the most of it for your brand?

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