Knock-off brands always make me laugh. I’m not sure why they’re so amusing. I guess it’s because knock-off brands have that desperate quality about them. Was it Judy Garland or Jeff Bezos who has that oft repeated quote: “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else”? Knock-off brands strive only to be a second-rate version and that disparity between what they want to be and what they actually are is always good for a few chuckles.
Knock-off brands typically present themselves as less-expensive alternatives to the brand you actually want. These are great options when you’re shopping on a budget. For example, Mountain Lightning from Wal-Mart is half the price of Mountain Dew. If you’re going to be buying gross green soda, why pay full price just for the brand name? Although for the dollars you save, you end up paying more when you factor in “explaining to visitors that Mountain Lightning is basically the same thing as Mountain Dew.” Still, these can be great alternatives and by the way, as far as weather events happening on mountains, lightning is way cooler than dew.
Sometimes knock-offs are clearly trying to get a bite of the market, like the hilariously shameless TOMS Shoes rip-off, BOBS from Skechers. TOMS made a name for themselves with their activist approach and their pitch is simple: for every pair of TOMS you buy, a pair of shoes will be donated to a shoe-less child in need. As it turns out, this is an excellent promotional strategy to woo consumers into buying stylish shoes, particularly millenials who generally don’t have the kind of disposable income to be making charitable contributions in other ways. So if they can help two birds with one shoe, then everyone wins. Skechers, meanwhile, have been suffering diminishing profits and decided to get into that compassionate consuming sphere after seeing the success TOMS was having and introduced BOBS. This approach did generate an increase in sales for Skechers but didn’t earn them any respect among insiders, as it’s “kind of in poor taste to knock off,” Corinna Freedman, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, told Bloomberg. However, it is consistent with Skechers business model of simply chasing what’s popular. “They glom onto the next trend and exploit it,” Freedman said. Keep it up, Skechers! Nothing better than cynical activism to sell shoes.
Another example of this is Jons obvious imitation of Vons. I’ve searched around on Google but I can’t seem to get a straight answer on Jons. What is the deal with Jons? Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one? Jons is a supermarket chain in Los Angeles that, at a glance, looks like the way more popular supermarket chain Vons, especially because of their similar names and logos. I assume the entire Jons business model is “hope customers think it’s a Vons until the moment that they walk inside and see how dirty and unorganized our stores are but by then it’s too late because we’ve locked the doors behind them.”
These imitators can actually help strengthen the brand they are imitating, though, and that is typically what happens. It turns out the best kind of marketing you can get for your brand is that sincerest form of flattery. So even though the knock-off brand may siphon away a few consumers, it actually ends up generating even more business for that alpha brand by raising awareness for them. You can’t mention BOBS without also remembering that they are biting TOMS style, for instance (also, for anyone who listens to radio in the Midwest, it’s weird that it’s Bob and Tom, right?). The guys over at Freakonomics shared the findings of a number of studies that reinforce this truth: advertising via copying is one of the most powerful endorsements.
However, when we’re talking about counterfeit knock-off brands — particularly of luxury items like premium brand shoes, sunglasses, and handbags — there is another effect to consider. While it may help the brand it’s imitating by providing free advertising, those products are still being made by someone and that money is still going somewhere. It’s generally seedy. Recently, we’ve been discovering that violent Mexican drug cartels are getting in on the counterfeit knock-off brand game as a source of revenue. And it turns out those knock-off Louis Vuitton handbags street vendors peddle tend to be often made in sweatshops, usually in basic violation of child labor laws. The stories of those conditions are horrifying and worth considering before buying cheap versions of Dior shoes, which are the #1 knocked-off counterfeit brand. Number one! Number one!
Still, look at these stupid things, like Arm & Hatchet.
Or this Turtles/Power Rangers hybrid knock-off, detailed on Turtles’ co-creator Peter Laird’s blog. Imagine the disappointment on that child’s face!
Or the pure delight on anyone’s face who receives this perfect gift:
Grant Pardee is a comedian originally from Ohio living in Los Angeles. He has performed at Bridgetown and SF Sketchfest, the Improv, Upright Citizens Brigade, and many other places, too. He contributes articles to VICE, and in 2013 the webseries he created, wrote and produced “Happy Place” was a finalist for the Comedy Central Short Pilot Competition at the New York Television Festival. Follow him on twitter @grantpa