Copycat packaging – is it really a good idea to start a war with all-powerful supermarkets?

It has been announced this week that Diageo is to sue Sainsbury’s over the supermarkets copycat version of Pimm’s, which was launched in April, arguing it as an infringement of its intellectual property.  Having looked at the bottles, it is quite clear that Diageo have a reason to kick up a bit of a fuss:

The similarities are impossible to ignore – from the sans serif font to the colours and shape to the serving recommendation.  Sainsbury’s even cheekily add that the drink has been launched ‘just in time for all the top summer events; Ascot, Henley and of course, Wimbledon’.  Events all previously associated with Pimm’s, and the infamous slogan ‘it’s Pimm’s o’clock’. 

This isn’t the first time that Sainsbury’s has been in the press over copycat packaging.  The supermarket is also said to have cashed in with an own-label shampoo in similar packaging to Head & Shoulders.

So you can understand Diageo’s frustration.  However, whilst taking the dispute to court is a brave move, is it a wise one?  Not only is Sainsbury’s one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets, but it is also one of Diageo’s biggest customers.    

In recent years the power that supermarket’s hold over brands has grown, illustrated in the demand for more competitive prices and aggressive discounting.  With that in mind it is refreshing to see a brand finally stand up for their product and its value, but whether this will come off well for Diageo remains to be seen. Currently there is no legislation that stops any retailer from copying leading brands packaging in order to raise the profile of their own-label product.  According to research, one in three consumers have bought own-label products with copycat packaging, with 65% agreeing that it is often confusing to distinguish between own label and branded products.

And unfortunately, according to British Brands Group Director John Noble, going to court is not always the best choice: “It’s a very ineffective line of action.  Not only is it very expensive, but ineffective as well because it is very difficult to prove consumer confusion in court.”  

Could Diageo be wasting its time completely?

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