“All war is based on deception.”
— Sun Tzu

The rate of globalisation went from bullock cart speeds to Mach 3 in mere decades and how the world got to this situation has been discussed time and time again. People like to pinpoint different reasons as to why this is happening but the general sentiment many currently have is that places that once seemed unique are losing their appeal to a combination of American and K-Pop culture, an influx of migration and fast food. We’re doing it Gangnam style.

With competition being utterly ruthless, it comes to no surprise that companies are desperately clinging on to whatever piece of the pie they can attain. The big boys frantically come out with rebranding exercises, slick new advertising slogans and an array of new products every year just to maintain relevance.

Startups have come up with ingenious ways to attract and retain their niche over the years but not everyone is as creative. Frankly speaking, some companies don’t even bother to be and they are proud of it. This brings us to ‘Copycat Branding’ – a form of branding that imitates a manufacturer’s brand in appearance and packaging. These are generally perceived as lower quality-lower priced goods in comparison to their competitors.

Take a stroll down most the streets of major South East Asian cities and these goods appear like ant colonies. There’s something for everyone judging by the sheer range of brand names- SONIA for the gadget heads? Or if you’re hungry head on down to triple-arched McDonalds.

In branding, we try to seek truths, core values and beliefs that give them a connection to the things they purchase. Whichever way we look at it, we judge others by the services and goods they buy. Essentially, what these copycats are doing is riding on their competitor’s equity.

The reason such companies partake in this is because research has shown that the larger the similarity is between a copycat and a leader, the higher the likelihood of brand confusion and the more positive the consumers’ evaluation of the copycat (Loken, Ross, and Hinkle 1986; Warlop and Alba 2004).

Not all copycats are equal though. Some companies disperse blatant knock-offs which are a common sight in countries where copyright laws are lax, e.g. China.

Then you have companies like CBAJ that cunningly and legally go to tremendous lengths to study their primary competitor GLAD to come out with a similar looking product. At the end of the day, consumers still consider CBAJ a worthy alternative and from all this information, we can gather that consumers are still winners by virtue of having choices.

But what about the companies themselves? Judging from both sides of the fence, what’s each respective company supposed to do in regards to branding?

1. The ‘imitators’ could begin to position themselves as an original company in its own right, having been successfully paddling as a ‘cheap’ alternative, there is little reason for them to continue as such.

2. As for the ‘orignators’, success is enviable and many will attempt to replicate it. Whilst there are several established ways a company can hold its marketshare, there is no better way to retain loyalty than to ensure their customers understand their core values and why their products are the very best thing for their money.

Hence, copycat brands should draw a line and heed the words of Jean-Luc Godard, “it’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” So while you can always copy, just be sure that you make it better by redoing it your way.

How would your brand participate in the golden age of the geek?

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