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Gorgeous George, Dodgy Doppelgängers, and Pushing Marketing Boundaries Too Far

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in a case reported in the The Telegraph (2016) at the beginning of last year, market leading brand Nespresso was less than impressed by the actions of the Israeli Espresso Club in employing the services of a George Clooney doppelgänger to promote its brand.

The global market for coffee pods is huge and growth is now outpacing the global growth in the instant coffee market. Clooney has been working with Nespresso for over ten years, and the brand sees him as a key into the US market to follow on from the successes it has enjoyed in Europe.

Clooney isn’t just the face of the brand, but works with the company on a number of different fronts and seems to be very committed to carrying on this relationship into the future. Such is his level of admiration for the social responsibility work of the company that he sits on its sustainability advisory board to promote the development of coffee farms in South Sudan.

Although we are not sure of the size of the Israeli company, this is a classic type of market follower strategy, which involves trying to imitate the successes enjoyed by the market leader. In many cases, leaders may ignore the actions of smaller operators, seeing them as no great strategic threat. But, in this case, the use of this George Clooney spoof video was seen as a bridge too far, and the company has chosen to pursue the matter through the Israeli Courts.

Imitation is a matter of degree – of course – and time will tell if Nespresso will win its case, which was taken in order to – in Nespresso’s words – prevent customers from being misled.

If Nespresso wins the case, it will show what a risky policy it can be for followers to imitate too closely the products, services – and even marketing campaigns – of those market leaders which sit out at the front of the pack. Tongue-in-cheek antics are all well and good, but cheeky brands run the risk of facing the ire of the bigger beasts if they push those boundaries too far.

Nespresso is far from the only brand to have fallen foul of this kind of clever marketing ploy. Also last year, Management Today reported how the tables were turned somewhat when heavy hitter Samsung landed itself in trouble for – according to footballing legend Pelé – sneakily featuring someone who bears a remarkable similarity to the Brazilian icon in an advertising campaign for a line of Ultra HD TVs (Smith, 2016). The case against Samsung is strengthened considerably by a feature showing a footballer performing a modified scissor kick, one of Pelé’s favourite strikes.

Marketers are encouraged to be clever, daring and to push the boundaries as far they can. In the cases of Samsung and the Israeli Espresso Club, time will only tell if the tactics of using dodgy doppelgänger are worth more than the costs involved in defending the expensive lawsuits that must inevitably follow.

References

Smith, Rebecca, 2016. Pele kicks off after Samsung uses lookalike in ad. Management Today. [Online] Available at: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/pele-kicks-off-samsung-uses- lookalike-ad/article/1389217#Is0s6ilTLz0JGyGd.99. Accessed: 10 October 2016.

The Telegraph, 2016. Nespresso sues coffee rival for using George Clooney lookalike. [Online] Available at:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/12113467/Nespresso- sues-coffee-rival-for-using-Geroge-Clooney-lookalike.html. Accessed: 10 October 2016.

This article was written by Cormac Austin