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Copycat Products: Who Cares If It Is A Copycat Product?


Copycat is not a new trend. One of my favorite arguments concerning brands and products involve cola – a particular soda beverage.

There’s a myth about the world’s most famous cola drink containing a secret recipe that gives it a distinct taste. I call it ‘myth’ because I did a blind test with a group of friends to prove that all cola drinks taste the same. I bought several cola drinks, poured them into similar plastic cups, and had my friends taste and tell me which was which.

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Of course, they all guessed wrong.

Just like energy drinks, except for some variants that contain alcohol or some fruit flavor, they all taste the same. It’s anyone’s guess which brand came first.

It’s not a novel idea that brands copy each other’s products – either as a way to fight the competition or as a way to latch onto a new and prosperous-looking idea. The battle for brand supremacy has been going on for centuries, and it doesn’t look like a battle that would end anytime soon. Often, brands make attempts to upstage one another, taking subtle and overt jabs at each other in commercials (our phone service providers take the cake on that one) and copying each other’s products.

A popular milk brand, a clear market leader with international and local versions of its star product, created a cheaper option to fight a market upstart that was gaining ground in the local space. A beer brand created a local herbal drink to fight one popular brand that has risen to prominence within the last fourty months. Things like this will continue to go on, with products basically being the same, the only differences being in the labeling and marketing.

But in the copycat wars, where do the consumers stand? After all, it is nothing but an attempt to corner a corner of the consumer’s mind – and therefore a slice of the consumer’s pocket. But is the consumer getting a fair bargain?

At the beginning of the mobile phone madness, there was a flat rate charge for calls – no matter the network called. A six-second call attracted the exact same charge – fifty Naira – as a fifty-nine-second call. That was how it worked. You flashed and hoped the person on the other line didn’t pick the call – else you would have wasted the money you were trying so hard to save. That went on for a while until a certain service provider came with per-second billing. That was the end of the stranglehold of the other two bigger guys. In that instance, it was a clear victory on behalf of the consumer. The giants had two options. They could either adjust their charges to per-second or watch the small guy calmly snatch everything they laid the groundwork for. At the end of the day, it wasn’t much of a choice.

But now, do copycat products herald well for the consumer?

In the rush for space in today’s over-saturated market, few brands pay any attention to product integrity. More money is spent on marketing and noise making. The mobile phone networks spend millions sending hourly text messages catering to all sorts of things – from pregnancy advice to zodiac signs.

And yet, services are on a daily decline.

In other markets, copycat products are announced as ‘something new’ from a familiar brand – something that is supposed to ‘one-up’ the previously-existing product. Most of the time, however, the new product is basically the same as the one it is supposed to be competing with. It just bears a new look. No attempts were made to improve on it and there’s probably little research done on the shortcomings of the competition in order to improve on them. There’s just a new product that offers nothing new.

The consumer also, probably caught up in that desire to be the first among their peers to know the new spot, the first to have tasted the new brew, the first to see the new movie or whatever soaks up the blatant rip-off and, because money is being made (which is usually the most important part to the brand), nothing is done to improve the consumer experience.

Only a truly quality product stands the test of time because the moment a better alternative appears the original fades into obscurity. And with the power social media has given people in recent times, there’s no better time than the present for brands to pay attention to the saying: the customer is king. It might look as though they can get away with all sorts of shoddy, half-baked products and focusing on competition rather than their consumers, but it’s always only a matter of time before the consumer wakes up to his power and starts to demand better.

Let intelligent brands beware! What’s your thoughts on the copycat culture?

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