Consumers confused by lookalike own-brand packaging, survey shows

Many consumers cannot tell the difference between own-brand and branded products when the two have similar packaging, a new survey shows.


Source: Which?

Lookalike ginger biscuits

The Which? research, based on answers from 7,855 Which? members, found that a quarter of those surveyed have difficulty differentiating between the two in supermarkets and shops, accidentally buying own-labels as a result.

One example cited in the research was the similarity between McVitie’s Ginger Nuts and Lidl’s Tower Gate Ginger Nuts (see image above). Once the brand names had been removed, 39 per cent confused the Lidl version with McVitie’s.

Other own-brands that the research suggested beared an uncanny resemblance to branded labels included Aldi’s Snackrite Thick Ridged Crisps (similar to McCoy’s), and Lidl’s Newgate Cream of Tomato Soup (similar to Heinz).

Soup can designs – spot the own-brand

Source: Which?

Soup can designs – spot the own-brand

A previous survey conducted by Which? in 2013 found that of those customers who bought an own-brand item by mistake, 38 per cent were annoyed and 30 per cent felt misled.

Legal professional Lee Curtis, partner and trademark attorney at law firm HGF, says the basic test for a design right infringement is whether the own-brand gives the same overall impression as the branded item.

He adds, however, that even if it does, many brand owners won’t take legal action. Curtis says: “Most of the main offenders for copying are big supermarkets. Brand owners will be scared of their commercial power and of being delisted – for many, supermarkets are their biggest customers, and they don’t want the hassle.”

Branded and own-brand crisp packs

Source: Which?

Branded and own-brand crisp packs

Curtis says registering elements of your brand as a trademark is a more effective way of deterring others from copying: “The problem with unregistered design rights is you have to be able to prove you’ve been copied,” He says. “If you register as a trademark or design, you just have to prove it’s similar or that they’ve taken unfair advantage of the distinctive character of your packaging, by trading on the coat-tails of your repute and investment in advertising.”

Several brands have attempted to register elements of the branding as trademarks, including Cadbury, which last year lost a legal battle to secure exclusive rights to Pantone 3685c purple in chocolate packaging.

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  • Greg Dillon November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I wrote about this on my blog ( and think it is one of the most frustrating things for the design industry as a whole.

    In fact I know of a brand that actively said to their in house design team ‘get this design as legally close to [competitor] as you can’ – brands put so much effort and time into creating great consumer experiences that this kind of thing really does frustrate.

  • Sophie Neilan November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Copycat own label pack design is just one example of the way supermarkets exploit brand owners. They also copy innovations and make unreasonable demands in terms of supply and discounting.

    I wonder what would happen if a significant group of brand owners got together and made a stand, like some of us in the design industry are doing regarding free pitching. It’s a similar problem – taking others’ ideas for free and making a profit from it.

  • Rene Du Toit November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Unfortunately this is all about educating the commercial teams who think that they need to match the competitors in order to make sales.

    I have found this practice to be particularly prevalent in Central Europe and Asia. My colleague and I have been trying hard to educate some of the people responsible about the pitfalls of copying and how it can actually have a detrimental effect on sales. Unfortunately, until they get their fingers burnt legally, some folks just won’t learn.

  • Maxine Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As Lawyer, Lee Curtis says the IP legal system is in place to protect trademarks and designs however when supermarkets wield the power of delisting a brand, even the major brand owners fear enforcing their IP rights.

    Recent changes in Design Law has made ‘blatant copying’ of a ‘registered’ design a criminal offence. However, apart from where an ‘inventive step’ exists in 3D design (and potential patent) brands rely on unregistered copyright – which is much harder to enforce.

    If supermarkets, as the Which Survey confirms, disregard their consumers, 30% of whom felt ‘misled’ it raises copycat packaging to a whole new level of distrust between the consumer and the copycat brand owner.

    If those 30% of consumers complained to the Unfair Trading Standards Authority under regulation 5 which covers misleading actions such as creating confusion with competitors’ products then the supermarkets might be deterred from copycat packaging.

    However, in this day and age consumers just get annoyed and do nothing.

    Design agencies instructed directly by a client to copy as near to a competitor product as possible could also make a stand and cite both the unfair trading regulation and the law on blatant copying of a design – but they too would fear upsetting a client.

    Thus the supermarkets will continue unfair trading practices at the expense of brand owners and their own customers unless the integrity of their brand dissuades them – or just ‘integrity’ itself.

  • Peter J Ramskill November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    This is an old argument but the points remain the same. This has always been a dumb practice and always will be. This is retailers saying we have no brand values of our own and no understanding or real knowledge of the products that we sell. This is like a supermarket saying we know nothing about food but we know how to copy those that do. It also insults customers by either tricking them (how good does a tricked customer feel about your retail brand?) or it actually convinces them that own-label is a substandard version of the real thing. If the retailer doesn’t believe these arguments they must think their customers are just stupid. (Turn that into a brand value.)

    It’s not as if it requires a leap of faith or bravery to create clearly distinguished own-brand packaging. It does require a bit of self-belief but most of all it requires honesty. Now there IS something to add to the brand values…

  • Glenn Kiernan November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The first paragraph of this article defies believe. Did someone actually invest money in that research? Blimey…if two different things look the same then it is confusing. Incredible.

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