Magazine article Marketing

Walkers Resurrects Copycat Brands War

Magazine article Marketing

Walkers Resurrects Copycat Brands War

Article excerpt

The first that Walkers Snack Foods knew about the lookalike design from Bensons Crisps was when disgruntled Walkers crisps customers telephoned to complain they had bought the wrong brand by mistake.

Bensons' new look, launched last October, was designed to revive sales after a reported 5% decline in the volume of crisps sold in the 26 weeks to May 26. It sported a 'banner' design very similar to that already used, and trademarked, by Walkers.

It is not the first time a market leading company has accused a rival of trying to hitch a ride on its coat-tails. Coca-Cola and Sainsbury's 1994 dispute over the design of the supermarket's own-label cola (which resulted in design changes), was just one of a series of recent clashes where brands have had to fight to protect their design and identity.

Yet the procedures involved in pursuing a dispute over lookalike branding remain ill-defined. What does a manufacturer do if they believe someone has copied their design?

For snack giant Walkers the course of action was clear.

"We received phone calls from consumers saying they had mistaken Bensons crisps for Walkers," says Martin Glenn, vice-president marketing. "We wrote to Bensons and said that we have various elements of the design copyrighted which we feel you have infringed."

Bensons disputed the claim but Walkers decided its case was strong enough to take legal action.

"We felt there were two cases," says Glenn, "trade mark infringement and passing off, or confusing the consumer with similar packaging."

The evidence before you...

Walkers gathered the evidence to support an injunction, to require that Bensons withdraw its new packaging. To support the claim Walkers set up market research, asking customers outside outlets selling both brands whether there was any confusion between the two.

Armed with the results and the belief that this was a clear case of copycat branding, Walkers issued a high court writ against Bensons, seeking an injunction to prevent further sales of the brand.

However, in December, before the case was heard, Ron Eagle, Bensons' sales director, met Glenn and it was agreed Bensons would change the design on its crisps.

It was a bitter blow to Bensons, which faces the costs of withdrawing all packets with the current design before February and commissioning a replacement. …

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