Knock it Off

One of the most enjoyable parts of my work is that I get to visit with so many beverage marketers. They open up their offices, share their visions, and let me catch a glimpse of the drawing board. We talk to assess the trends, past and present successes and failures, and where to go next. Bringing out new brands and SKUs, and upgrading packaging efforts, make for key aspects for competing, envisioning the next great thing, and staying solvent.

While on my sojourns, I always like to see what covers their desks and shelves. Aside from an array of their product lines, I’m always interested in what competitive brands are on their minds and around their offices. Nevertheless, one recent visit really took me aback.

As we all know, Sparkling Ice has been one of the most prominent success stories over the last two years. This office had three bottles of the brand sitting there – or so I thought. On closer inspection, and with the disclosure of my host, I realized that two were direct knock-offs of that successful brand. I couldn’t see any difference until I perused the labels.

The two other bottles were brands made to look like the real thing. One was being made by a retailer. Mind you, I have no issue with competitors trying to capitalize on success by coming out with a comparable product. “Me-Toos,” while often a waste of effort, are part of the game. If Coke wants to come out with a new Fruit Water to compete in the arena, more power to them, and the same goes for all of the others jumping into the fray.

But, there is a lack of integrity and honesty to come out with something so close to the look, in the identical packaging, that you can’t tell the difference.

This was not an isolated incident. Over the years I have seen this far too often, small-minded companies trying to mimic their way to success.

It is a capitalist world and there’s always room for many players in a category. But there are degrees that are acceptable, and crossing over the line to knock off a brand is not. And lest you think you’re able to keep things cute enough that you’ll be able to pull it off, remember – the courts can get ugly.

Imitation is the finest form of flattery, or so the adage says. But not when you go too far. We are an industry of creativity, innovation and hard work. It saddens me when, too often, companies stake their entire reason for being on the efforts of others. There are so many ways to distinguish your brand. Knocking off the original look is dishonest. Create your own signature, don’t take someone else’s.