I saw a consumer ad on the television the other day. Nothing particularly unusual in that, clearly. It was for a shampoo with caffeine in it. It got me thinking.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This is something I’ve touched on before, when retailers come very close to copying faithfully the famous brand names and piggyback on all that goodwill that took years and millions to create. Irish folk will also note the familiarity in name and offering between a native fast food provider ending in Mac’s and the US company beginning in Mc that has been setting the standard since the 1950’s. The Founder of the Irish company does have a surname beginning with Mc, so that’s his defence perhaps. They’ll also remember a national retailer whose St Bernard brand bore a striking resemblance in logo colours and typography to the St Michael brand of Marks and Spencer.

That, for me, is about imitation, flattery and profit. Or imitation for profit to give it a shorter and more accurate phrase. Anyway, back to the shampoo ad, which borrows heavily from an engine oil ad from 30 years ago. It’s probably easier if you watch this 1-minute video, which puts the two ads back to back.

Of course you can argue it’s an ‘homage’ – best if you pronounce that in the French style, otherwise the ‘an’ before it looks cumbersome – to the original ad, and clearly the two companies are competing in different industries, unlike the examples I cite above. But what is inescapable is that it is leveraging the brand equity of another entity for profit. A clever, deft use of other people’s money, yes, but does it cross the commercial line? For me, yes.

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