Marks & Spencer suing ‘blatant copycat’ Aldi over Christmas gin could lead to boom in sales for both, comments marketing professor

Bayes Business School academic believes retailers must continue to strive for unique designs in packed market space.

A leading marketing professor believes both Marks & Spencer and Aldi could pocket a profit after the former sued the latter over its ‘copycat’ Christmas gin design.

Marks & Spencer is taking its discount rival to court because of its production and sale of a similar gin liqueur that contains edible golden flakes, which gives the impression of snow.

M&S allege that their Light-Up Gin has been replicated by Aldi, who launched their own clementine and blackberry flavoured liqueurs last month. Documents submitted to the High Court claim that the Aldi offering, retailing at £13.99 which is £6 cheaper than M&S’s price, ‘constitute designs which do not produce on the informed user a different overall impression to the [M&S] designs’.

Professor Zachary Estes, Professor of Marketing at Bayes Business School, says so-called ‘copycat’ products are often viewed as malicious attempts by one brand to trick consumers into mistakenly buying their product, instead of a visually similar leading brand.

Professor Estes added that while Aldi’s ‘blatant copy’ is an ‘unusual’ approach, the result could be a boost in sales for both retailers.

“M&S would have spent considerable resources creating this unique and attractive bottle, which is exactly why they registered the design. It is a bottle that consumers will not only notice on the shelf, but even display in their homes. Aldi have blatantly copied the M&S design.

“For Aldi, copying the bottle design will boost sales of their own product, without the costs of the design and registration process. If the profits from those additional sales exceed the cost of their presumed out-of-court settlement with M&S, then copying was a winning strategy.

“Ironically, being copied may be good news for M&S. For one thing, if imitation is a form of flattery, then Aldi have very publicly complimented M&S. This could improve M&S’s reputation among consumers. Additionally, Aldi’s imitation could increase M&S’s sales by increasing overall demand for the category of Christmas-themed liqueurs. And of course, the more publicity there is about this festive case of corporate flattery, the more both M&S and Aldi stand to gain in terms of sales.”

Recent research from Professor Estes found that consumer purchasing can be influenced by the position of handles on shopping trolleys, and how muscles stimulate certain spending patterns.

Professor Estes says that more unique designs will grab customers attention, improving opinions of the product and maybe even resulting in the item becoming a staple piece of decoration in a room.

While Professor Estes says this is not the first time a ‘copycat’ design has been produced, he says originality is still a standard retailers should uphold.

“The design of a product package influences consumers’ purchases more than they realise. On the shelf, attractive and distinctive packages grab attention and improve consumer’s attitudes toward the product. At home, the package may even be displayed as part of the décor, as an expression of one’s style or lifestyle.

“Creating unique and attractive packages is time-consuming and costly. Given the huge number of products on the market, finding a unique design is not easy. Unique designs also tend to be more difficult and expensive to manufacture.

“Copycats are actually quite common on the market. Most often, it is a store’s own brand that is made to resemble a national leading brand, such as the Boots brand of anti-dandruff shampoo closely resembling a bottle of Head & Shoulders. What Aldi has done here, where one store brand copies another store brand, is quite unusual.”

All comments can be attributed to Professor Zachary Estes, Professor of Marketing at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass).


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