We’ve often heard the term ‘stealing from the competition’, but a 2013 study highlighted how many brands and products are literally doing this.
In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in supermarket own brands as cash-strapped shoppers become less convinced that paying extra for well-known brands is really worth it.
So how is it that retailers are ‘stealing’ from brands?
Research carried out for Which? magazine concluded that own brands ‘camouflage’ their products in the same colour and similar design as their big brand rivals. The study revealed that supermarket shoppers, who tend to be on auto-pilot and easily distracted, will often pick up the own brand product in error. If they pick it up deliberately, this will be because the similar design is more effective at suggesting that the product is of similar quality at a lower price, and much better value.
In retail terms, it’s gamekeeper turned poacher.
Why is this working?
This tactic seems to be working because it taps into our cognitive biases.
Behavioural economics tells us that we are programmed as a species to run on auto-pilot until we encounter something that requires more involved thinking. The ‘paradox of choice’ is one example where shoppers can, in fact, be paralysed by being offered too much choice.
Conversely, by utilising the visual cues of big brands, particularly colour, retailers are exploiting our tendency to use past experience and instinctive or habitual rules of thumb to guide our actions.
How can brands respond?
From a branding perspective, it means the battle is on to find ways to stand out.
One way to do this is to trademark your brand colours or package design to ensure copycat rivals cannot take advantage of everything a brand has so carefully built. Coca-Cola is one famous brand to have done this brilliantly and consistently over decades.
Another is constant innovation – experimenting with or regularly changing package design, creating new or limited edition variants, etc. can work, but this can become kind of ‘arms race’.
An interesting recent innovation was Nutella’s creation of 7 million unique, very limited edition, algorithmically-generated labels. Not only did it help them stand out on the shelf, it succeeded in generating huge amounts earned media and, of course, sales.