It's probably the most famous lawsuit in Britain right now…

M&S declared a caterpillar war on the German discount store for copying Colin the Caterpillar’s trademark design. Aldi took to social media in a conversational communication strategy that won the hearts and minds of consumers. They successfully laughed off the lawsuit with a series of tweets; “Marks & Snitches” as well as tweets with the “#FreeCuthbert” hashtag.

It’s not uncommon nowadays for corporations to take a humorous approach to social media and gain support from followers. It’s also not uncommon for Aldi to capitalise on another retailer’s product. M&S finally joined in after a series of tweets from Aldi. The humorous response sparked even more conversation and reignited the dialogue. Finally, Aldi suggested using their feud for a charitable cause (see below).

It’s somewhat reminiscent of last year Aldi’s run-in with Brewdog last year when shoppers commented on the resemblance between Aldi’s Anti-Establishment beer and BrewDog’s flagship Punk IPA.

BrewDog initially suggested it would create Yaldi IPA teasing them in a social media post. However, true to form,  the supermarket, responded with: ‘We would have gone with ALD IPA, send us a crate and we’ll talk…’

2 months later, what started as a spoof brand was being sold exclusively at Aldi stores. James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog commented “From a mock-up on Twitter to being stocked at Aldi stores across the UK, the response has been incredible. Most importantly, both BrewDog and Aldi have agreed that for every case sold an extra tree will be planted in the BrewDog Forest. A win-win for our customers, and the planet!”

Brewdog and Aldi are both very experienced at using social media to maximise their exposure. Brewdog’s style to deal with a copycat product using humour rather than legal action, and for a good cause, is great exposure and effective in drumming up brand loyalty! Since they have commented on Aldi’s latest Brewdog copy (see below). Maybe our friends at “Marks and Snitches” should have taken a leaf out of their book…

But how does the supermarket giant really get away with copying other brands?

Professor Michael Handler, an intellectual property law expert at the University of NSW stated, “They know how far the law is prepared to go [to protect brands] and I think they make sure they are comfortably on the right side of things. It might well be a type of free-riding but it’s not free-riding that causes consumer harm.” Their successful method of offering in-house brands at a significant discount compared with the typical products also offers a budget-friendly option to those who can’t necessarily afford bigger brands. Fady Aoun, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney said ‘Aldi’s legal department knew “exactly what they’re doing” and how to mimic a product while making sure there are sufficient points of difference in packaging and trade marks’.

Most likely, Aldi would have extensive legal expertise behind every product that has a resemblance to those sold by their competitors. Additionally, retailers know what they are doing, igniting pre-existing associations onto their own products by applying recognisable characteristics.

Everyone loves more bang for their buck and the imitation of a high-end product for an affordable price is EVERYWHERE. One could argue that it is more damaging when a larger retailer rips off the design of a small business that doesn’t have the power or capacity to make the same sales. With these larger businesses, they can use their popularity and comms strategy to gain even more consumer support on both ends… a win-win?

Our take… There’s a fine line, and we certainly don’t condone plagiarism by any means. But, sometimes you’ve got to laugh it off and even capitalise from it. After all, isn’t imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?