Brand Plagiarism: The Imitation Game

Very few ideas are totally original

The Imitation Game

Businesses like to see what other businesses are doing. Whether it’s a service, an ad placement or a line of copy; few ideas are totally original and that’s ok. Competition is healthy and you’re allowed to take inspiration from other people’s work. But it needs to be inspiration, not imitation.


Over the years we have witnessed some crazy examples of household names copying each other. Stealing text or photos is probably the most popular ploy to cut corners but we’ve also witnessed client’s PPC ads literally being cut and pasted by a rival agency without even bothering to change the original phone number (yes – this really did happen).

This lazy approach to your brand can be publicised leaving you embarrassed. Urban Outfitters has been guilty of copying products from smaller merchants for years and while it is likely you can genuinely come up with the same ideas – it’s funny how it’s only Urban Outfitters that have been caught for it. Repeatedly.

This is terrible PR for a brand. Especially as Urban Outfitters like to associate themselves with the creative circles that make a lot of the original products that they then go on to imitate.

Copying is widespread and hugely frustrating when it happens to you but where do you draw the line and how can you prevent it?

In this blog post we’ll share tips and best practice advice to prevent your work being stolen or resorting to stealing someone else’s.


Brand Ideas:

Authenticity is far more powerful than anything else. If you spend time creating a strong brand, with a clear tone of voice then that will come across; it will be genuine, core to your business identity and used consistently – making it very difficult to be replicated successfully by somebody else.

An example of this is how we’ve created a brand around the word ‘tribe’. We’re not the first to come up with this word and apply it to marketing. The theory of a ‘Tribe’ describing a group of people with a shared interest being brought together and guided by a chief or leader was coined in Seth Godin’s book ‘Tribes’ back in 2008.

While the book inspired the name of our business and the terminolgy also clearly linked to our services, we went a step further with our branding to cement the concept and differenciate from competitors. Our logo (a teepee) is a more obvious and literal interpretation of a tribe and we use similar graphics across our website. Collectively, these little touches result in a strong brand identity and were another local agency to start using tribe terminology, it probably wouldn’t work as well.

So if you’re tempted to imitate what someone else is doing, just remember this example and what is relevant for yourbusiness.


Content:

Like branding, genuine content is far more engaging than an awkwardly phrased replica. It’s very easy to look at a rival businesses blog and think ‘that’s great – lets copy what they do’.

However it will be far more beneficial long term for you to take the time to plan original content yourself and discover content ideas that are unique to your business. For example: your company history, its location, visitor stories, old photos – all of these things are difficult to replicate.

Inevitably you will quote other people and that’s fine provided you reference via a hyperlink. If you’re publishing somebody else’s work (for example an entire blog post) you can use a canonical tag pointing towards the original URL source – this lets search engines know you are referencing a source, not intentionally copying.

If you’ve just finished writing that latest company blog post and you’re unsure whether everything you’ve written is unique, try using a plagiarism checker to ensure you’re not unknowingly imitating. 


Images:

Images (and music!) are possibly the most contentious as the rights to this work is how many artists earn a living, by taking it for free they don’t get paid or any recognition. Therefore, more and more people are going to extra lengths to protect their work with watermarks placed on the image so that it’s source is visible.

watermark image example


While this is effective in protecting your images and suits individuals, it doesn’t look right for certain brands. This is why we recommend always adding a logo to photographs so that if they are shared, the brand is associated to the image in a premium way.

Certain social channels, such as Instagram, have the ability to  easily reference the person who took the original image through re-gramming apps like ‘Repost’, as shown in the example below.


URLS:

If you’re new to websites, the number of URLs available can seem limited as people have already snapped up many of the best titles – be this for domain squatting or genuine use.

One step beyond this is the practice of buying a domain and attempting to pass off as a recognised brand – an obvious example is luxury products where brand is key to a premium price tag and is out of reach of most web users.

Here is an example of a fake Canada Goose website Canadagoose.shine1998.com, complete with lookalike branding and full e-commerce functionality, you would be surprised how many people cannot spot the real thing.

This blog post is a good read, which details a consumer who purchased from a similar site.

Search engines are improving the blacklisting of these sites, meaning much of their traffic is diminished. However when a counterfeit site is potentially fragmented around the globe (hosted in Taiwan, made in Bangladesh but shipped from China) getting such a site closed down is easier said than done.

If you experience somebody copying you going down the legal route is an option, but hard for smaller businesses as the process takes time and can be prohibitively expensive. Sometimes you just have to accept that there is a URL similar to yours in search results. However you can help your search visibility by putting greater emphasis on your SEO activity to insure you have a strong organic web presence that effectively communicates you as the authority.

Canada Goose has tackled this problem effectively by providing content that warms about this activity via a strong counterfeit section on their website


Canada Goose counterfeit awareness page


From a consumer perspective if you ‘Google’ a brand name and you find a website that has a URL containing the brand + other words (often: cheap, discounted, online, China) the URL is an imitation – unless that’s what you’re looking for?


Social:

Social channels are another online property that many people like to replicate or register in the hope that someone might buy it from them – and this doesn’t just occur for high street brands. If your business is being replicated, you can report them on Facebook and follow the procedures to close that page, something that we recently recommended to a client. Twitter and Instagram isn’t quite as straightforward but as long as your content is presented consistently, it will be easy to spot the ‘official’ page.


If you have experienced any of the above practices and want to learn more please contact us – we’re happy to advise.

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