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Copycat packaging design – misleading or just really clever?

Fri 12th April, 2013 @ 2:05pm by studiorokit

Copycat packaging misleading or just really clever? It's a big question - perhaps we need a quick history lesson. Pablo Picasso once said "Good artists borrow, great artists steal", and there's little doubt that Pablo, a wily chap at the best of times, know what he was on about, having (probably) lifted it from T.S.Elliot and swapping around a few words to fit his vision. Of course, the story doesn't stop there however, every generation brings new understanding to the basic truth of the message and Banksy, Bristol's answer to Hogarth knew this too, taking the Picasso quote, tweaking it and hammering of his name and putting his over the top. A visual pun designed to tickle the funny bone of the well read arty types and counter culture yoof alike. Smart, on the money and in keeping with the truth - and that truth is one that many designers learn early on in their careers. "there is nothing new".

The "nothing new" lesson is of course not exactly literal in the sense that there is nothing new and all things are copies of things that have gone before, it's more of a reminder that ideas, no matter how cool, seemingly whacky, outlandish, bizarre or seemingly 'new' are probably the end result of a collection of ideas, memes, themes and concepts brought together in that single creative moment, but collected over day, weeks, months years, lifetimes and collective histories. Art says it one way, classic philosophy which later on became science as we know it today (and made famous by Issacc Newton) says it another way "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

And so to the world of brands, packaging and copycats. Branding and packaging, unlike the free for all world of art and the peer reviewed and often shared knowledge base of science, is a fiercely guarded territory. Brands are born, grown and the owners reap the rewards, they build emotional relationships with their consumers and whole families buy into the brands, from the most mundane products like soap powder to high price prestige product like watches and perfumes, people join the brand family, they hope, for a lifetime.

And so this is how things always were, for many years, since the real beginning of branded products in the late 19th century, brands were the aspirational choice. You could have some unnamed product or you could have something that sounded special, something with nicer packaging (or just with packaging), something with a royal warrant, something that helped make you feel that you'd made it, if only a little bit. And then things began to change with the advent of the supermarket and their understanding of the market they traded in and pure, street-level, day-to-day economics and human nature. They realised that there was the a big chunk of people that wanted to feel like they were buying big brands but without the pain in the pocket. The own brand was born, and it developed and evolved, finally taking the form of it's enemy. The Me2 brand had arrived.

We all know them, and in an atmosphere of economic downturn they're actually everywhere. Offering the promise of nearly as good as the best, for less. 1 in 5 consumers in he UK, according to a recent Which? survey, have 'miss bought' an own brand product in place of a big brand they thought they'd bought. And this is where the magic, the art of the own brand designer comes into its own. The fine line treading, the delightful mimicry, the close enough to attract the consumer but different enough to ensure no legal action occurs. Its one of the most interesting and often overlooked aspects of the world of branding and packaging and one that is derided, looked down upon and seen as a cheap shot.

It's easy to make the argument that a Me2 product is just stealing someone else's ideas, but if done well it's merely harking back to the very truth that all creatives know, it's out daily reminder that original art doesn't really exist and that every generation takes what has gone before and makes of it what they can. They can take cues that are seen as generic to a sector, for example Gin generally goes in a green bottle and has a white label, but they cannot whip off with a design element used on a competitor's bottle. They have to take all of what is infront of them and make something just as good, different and the same all in one go. And when they get it right it's strangely wonderful to look at.

Next time you're in Aldi (in my opinion the very best at this form of design) or the supermarket of your choice take some time to just enjoy all the design on offer and appreciated the dark art of the Me2 designer.

Own Brands taking over? Interesting comment on the Guardian.

"One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest."


Eliot, T.S., “Philip Massinger,” The Sacred Wood

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[source studiorokit.com]

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