The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

blog-flatteryEveryone who complains about a fellow artisan copying their products is told, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Does that make it acceptable? Is the original maker supposed to feel complimented and let it go? What should the original maker do?

Take note that the copying referred to is not the kind where the maker posts a beautifully designed product on a Facebook group and other makers rush to replicate it. Instead, I am speaking of business owners directly copying others’ ideas, whether a product line, labeling, design and packaging or some other unique aspect of the person’s business.

The copying goes beyond recognizing a great idea and implementing it with an individual twist; it is honest-to-goodness copying—same ingredients, same packaging, same combination of products in the same basket, setting up a store to look nearly identical and so on. It is a tactic for the business owner who lacks self-confidence and the originality to come up with her own ideas or someone who is too lazy.

But what is an owner to do?

The problem is hugely annoying, with no clear cut answers to help avoid or quash it. If it is any consolation, businesses of all sizes face imitation.

Yes, we can defend trademark and copyright violations; so when it involves those, the answer is to use legal means. Often however, the copying is not something that you can  trademark or copyright.

How makers deal with imitators.

Makers have a number of actions they take to stop copying competitors. Some ideas are good, but not all of them. Read carefully to find out what owners do and why the idea is good or unadvisable.

  1. Approach the person and and let them know their imitation is obvious and unappreciated. Sometimes, the embarrassment of being caught and confronted is enough to stop them in their tracks. This is nearly always the best first step.
  2. Go to the copier’s business page and accuse them where their customers can see your complaint. This might work, but it may also backfire if their loyal customers decide you are the bad guy, and chances are, they will. Be careful if you are tempted to use this approach.
  3. You might think to contact your loyal customers and ask them to complain for you, in hopes it will shame the competitor into ceasing their behavior. This might keep you from looking nefarious, but do you want to use your customers that way?
  4. The passive-aggressive tactic is to post something sickeningly sweet on the other person’s business page with a surprised, “That looks just like the soap I posted yesterday!” You could do that, but believe me, everyone sees through your comment and knows your motive, which is most likely to lead to a negative impression . . . of you.
  5. Concentrate on your own business and do not allow yourself to become sidetracked with what someone else is doing. This does not leave you defenseless. Add, “Original” to your website and other communications. This is an effective way to alert your customers to the fact that you are indeed, the original and your obviously wonderful products are being copied. When I see it, I instantly get the impression that this business is indeed, the original and that someone else is a mere copy. It works!

Have you faced this situation? Did you use a unique approach to deal with it? Tell us.


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne, Making Soap, Cosmetics & Candles Magazine

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