National brand responses to brand imitation: retailers versus other manufacturers

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/10610429910266940
Pages96-105
Date01 April 1999
Published date01 April 1999
AuthorColleen Collins‐Dodd,Judith Lynne Zaichkowsky
Subject MatterMarketing
National brand responses to
brand imitation: retailers versus
other manufacturers
Colleen Collins-Dodd
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Faculty of Business Administration,
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Judith Lynne Zaichkowsky
Professor of Marketing, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon
Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Keywords Brands, Own-label goods, Legal disputes, Retailing, Trade marks
Abstract Data from national brand manufacturers suggest they are more willing to take
legal action against other independent manufacturers than against retailers when they
think their trademark brands have been infringed. Imitation by other independent
manufacturers prompts national brands to be more likely to improve their products than
imitation by retailers. Those manufacturers who have taken legal action against imitating
retailers are less fearful of possible retaliation tactics, such as delisting, or losing shelf
space in the retail environment.
Anecdotal evidence in the academic literature and business press suggests
that manufacturers will take legal action against each other when they
believe their trademarks or trade dress have been infringed upon, but they are
reluctant to take legal action when retailers undertake the same copycat
activity (Kapferer, 1995b; Hollinger, 1997). The reason put forth is that
manufacturers are said to be fearful of being delisted or losing shelf space, if
they confront retailers who copy their brands (Finch, 1996). Therefore,
despite laws prohibiting trademark infringement, imitation of national brands
seems to be common in our marketplace. This practice is said to be so
extensive in the cereal category that there are no major brands remaining to
be imitated, thereby limiting projections for private label growth in the
category (Burns, 1995).
Copycat or imitation strategies have a long history of ``free-riding'' on the
success of leading national brands (Kapferer, 1992; Ward et al., 1986). In
fact, some of the first trademark infringement cases were brought to the
courts in the early 1800s (Zaichkowsky, 1995). The basis of imitation is that
consumers generalize the similarity between exterior physical features to
infer similarity of product quality or functionality (Kapferer, 1995a; Ward
et al., 1986; Zaichkowsky and Simpson, 1996). Such stimulus generalization
does not require confusion between the originator and imitator, or even the
belief that the manufacturer is the same (Kapferer, 1995a). Since most
imitations are priced lower than the original brands, consumers are willing to
buy the lower priced imitation, which may offer greater value if the product
is as good as the national brand it imitates. As a result, not only may national
brand manufacturers suffer loss of sales, but their brand equity may be
irreparably damaged by changing consumers' attitudes about the uniqueness
of the national brand (Zaichkowsky and Simpson, 1996). Therefore all
national brand managers are extremely concerned about imitation of their
brands.
The purpose of this research is to investigate how and why manufacturers
respond to competitors that copy the trade dress, and hence the look and feel
of their brand. Most companies (i.e. Coca-Cola and Gillette) consider this
Brand equity may be
irreparably damaged
96 JOURNAL OF PRODUCT & BRAND MANAGEMENT, VOL. 8 NO. 2 1999, pp. 96-105, #MCB UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1061-0421
An executive summary for
managers and executive
readers can be found at the
end of this article

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