Down with lazy lookalikes! Up with value products with a clear position and beautiful branding.

This month I attended the inaugural foodservice marketing forum organised by Allegra Strategies. Speakers shared some fascinating research and I had an opportunity to chat to a number of very experienced marketers in the food and drink sector.

I also had the pleasure of a visit from David Mckown this week, the man behind the annual “Skills for Chefs Conference”, held at Sheffield University every year.

These two unconnected events provided me with some very interesting consumer insights concerning the practice of lookalike (parasitic if you’re posh or studied Law) branding.

The things I learnt:

  • Students don’t like to be fooled.

Research into ketchup consumption in the student market confirmed that university caterers’ attempts to save money by using cheaper alternatives to branded products backfired. Students just bought less. Not necessarily because of taste but because of authenticity.

In student bars one of the best selling vodkas is packaged in a skull-shaped bottle. Its appeal is not its taste, which according to experts falls far short of premium vodkas, but its affordability and quirky packaging. Transparency, authenticity and clever thinking are the key to its success.

  • Smart shopping is cool.

In the wider consumer market the increasing acceptability of smart shopping and, by default, value brands, is incontestable. Current research shared by Allegra, backed up by an independent study carried out by Torch, shows that value is one of the most important factors affecting purchasing decisions.

  • Good value means worth it, it doesn’t mean cheap. It means delivering on your brand promise.

Lookalike branding is promising something which cannot be delivered, unless the product is genuinely as good as the original.

The success of Aldi in recent years has not been driven by the lookalike brands they stock but by their significantly increased profile as a result of heavy TV advertising spend and a clever campaign. Most other businesses have been reducing TV spend. The Aldi ads have connected with their existing customers (for whom TV is still the first choice for content consumption) and brought new ones as value shopping has become more acceptable.

In an era of transparency and authenticity only the true equivalents can successfully employ the lookalike approach and even then, with educated audiences, the benefits of doing so are in doubt.