Stealing brand equity' measuring perceptual confusion between national brands and copycat own-label products

Date of publication: June 15, 1994


In all countries, distributors' brands have been facing the same problem : how to change consumers' perceptions, without advertising, from inferior imitations of national brands to quality alternatives. To do so the packaging is the main media : one has witnessed the development of retailers' own label products that look almost identical to well-known brands, considered as the quality reference of the segment. This deliberate imitation is designed to induce beliefs of internal equivalence, This practice has immediately called the attention of manufacturers on many grounds. It is a typical trade-mark infringement and predates intellectual property. Through R&D, quality and advertising the brand signs become assets: they acquire meaning, they become words or icons saying quality and positioning. As such they have financial value. This is why copycat brands use these signs : they are a ladder to quality perceptions. On ethical grounds, it may create confusion, some consumers mistaking the own label product for the manufacturer's brand. Actually, in many countries, imitation is unfair if consumers "paying little attention may perceive the copy as being the original brand". Finally, look-alike brands may give the impression that the manufacturer of the proprietary brand has made the own label product. The paper presents a brand new methodology addressing the issue of measuring perceptual confusion. It also assesses the inferences concerning the manufacturer of such copies. The results are straightforward • Good look-alike private labels do create a lot of confusion, at least the first time they are encountered by a consumer (later, the consumer may be on his guard). Similarity of packagings do lead consumers to believe that manufacturers are identical.

Jean-Nöel Kapferer


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