Knock Offs In The Toy Industry…Is Imitation The Sincerest Form Of Flattery?
The toy industry (like many brand dominated consumer products industries) has a significant problem with knock offs i.e. people ripping off a product. Recent high profile cases have shown that even retailers are not immune to looking for an easy win/quick buck using someone else’s brand without necessarily paying for it!
The reality is that branded products command a premium versus generic products, and so they will tend to sell more than generic products. The challenge for toy companies is to find an effective way to robustly protect brands/properties.
While trademarks and ‘passing off’ legislation offer some protection, they need to be actively managed and enforced, often at some cost/legal risk.
There appears to be a difference between ‘me too’ products and an actual rip off/knock off product. For instance let’s say you are active in the creative play category and you create a new play pattern, you launch a product and it’s a huge success…the outcome is likely to be a). good sales initially and b). after one or two selling cycles, your competitors will have cottoned on & will have similar products. This would be regarded by most as pure competition, and the only way to beat it is to keep on innovating, leverage customer relationships and deliver cost effectively/with good marketing.
At the furthest end of the spectrum the other way though is the blatant knock off, either an illegal copy of the product using the same brand name but not manufactured/supplied by the brand owner, or the blatant knock off with just the tiniest (often hilariously bad/ill thought out) amendments to make a token but presumably legally insignificant change!
While walking between show rooms in Hong Kong we noticed a street toy stall selling something called “Deformers” which looked almost entirely like a Transformer toys. While such names and bad copies can be amusing at first view, actually they are symptomatic of a problem which costs toy companies and brand owners fortunes.
This is obviously not a new issue, one of my first memories of the toy industry is seeing Hasbro’s Legal Counsel striding around the Nuremberg toy fair (in the late ’90s) issuing cease & desist notices to Far East vendors of products he deemed to be infringing Hasbro’s intellectual property.
So new or old issue, the problem of knock offs is not going away…the reality is that the more successful you are the more likely your products/brands are to be knocked off, so from one perspective it is a problem of success, not that this makes it any less frustrating!
by Steve Reece, CEO of Kids Brand Insight www.KidsBrandInsight.com, a leading Consultancy to toy companies around the world, which helps companies with product reviews & awards, find the right toy & game factories, consumer research test their products with kids and parents and secure export distribution/market entry around the world