Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brands Battle For Second Place

In the brand wars there is only one winner and it's typically very easy to predict who that will be. With very few exceptions, the brand that claims the title of "category king" is the one who invented it. Despite this fact, many marketers never give up on their overthrow attempts of the king.

So, when I open Brandweek and read this, "surprise" was hardly my reaction. The headline says it all: "Sears Intros Netflix-Like Service." The retail dinosaur will be partnering with Sonic Solutions to deliver movie downloads to Sears and Kmart customers on a "growing network of devices;" however, the popular iPod is not yet one of them. The new offering from Sears will be called "Alphaline Entertainment." Thankfully, the extension wasn't called Searsflix. Still, the new brand is obviously a copycat of Netfilx and won't do much to fix the struggling retailer. Copycats simply don't become king. And this is especially true when they are not even the first to copy the leader; Walmart and Best Buy introduced movie downloading services before Sears.

However, a lack of focus is not just reserved for struggling brands. Thanks to Apple's iPad, others are rushing (back) into the tablet computer category. Samsung is currently touting its iPad clone, the Galaxy Tab, even though the company leads the flat-panel television category. An obvious copycat, perhaps the tagline should be "it's exactly the same but without the Apple name." Further, they're doing this at a time when their flat panel leadership position is less than secure, as number two Vizio is not far behind. Meanwhile, despite all its successes, even Apple cannot keep itself from trying to establish itself in the flat-panel market.

Will marketers ever stop creating copycat brands. Of course not. But I hope they remember Coca-Cola's iconic "It's the Real Thing" campaign and understand why it was so effective: a copycat inherently implies "second best."

Growing up, I hated owning copycat brands. I had Matchbox cars instead of Hot Wheels, Mega Bloks instead of Lego's and a Pro Player jacket, not a Starter. What copycats and generics do you remember having as a child or possibly still enjoy today? Portions of this post appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.

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