Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Copycat Make-up

The Korea Times has a piece today about local cosmetic manufacturers packaging and naming their product in a manner similar to famous names:

Some such items widely noticed by consumers are Skin Food Black Sugar Mask, which resembles the look and name of Fresh Face Sugar Mask. The same goes for Face Shop Gel Eyeliner, which is similar to Bobby Brown Gel Eyeliner, and Etude Mascara Fixer that looks and sounds like Clarins Fix Mascara.

A problem here is most of the seeming violations are not really violations at all. Yes there is a similarity in the naming, but its descriptive in nature. In fact the name "Fresh Face Sugar Mask" is probably unregistrable under Korean Trademark Law, because it is arguably descriptive. The "expert" quoted in the KT article gives a similar comment. However, I wonder how good KT's experts are given lines like this:

legal experts advise that some resemblance can be dangerous because of copyright issues.

Actually this a trade dress, and arguably a trademark, issue. A copyright has nothing to do with it! 

The more interesting quotes though are some of the consumers in the article:

Consumers welcome the resemblance local brands are offering because it opens more options for frugal shoppers reluctant to spend too much on cosmetic products.

``I know that local and foreign make-up quality can't be the same, but I think to some extent they are similar so I'm not complaining about the cheaper items offered in local stores,'' said Suh Hae-min, a 23-year-old office worker in Seoul.

Price differences vary from 10,000 won to as much as 30,000 won.

``I often buy Korean brands because they're less costly and when I have some extra cash, I invest in foundations and mascara made in Europe,'' said Kim Yoo-mi, a 26-year-old business consultant. 

Now compare that to this article of the past couple days:

The Commerce Ministry announced yesterday the results of a poll of 2,809 people in 21 countries, which said if a Korean product is worth $100, an American product of equal quality would be worth $149 and a German product $155...Korean products' brand image still lacks the lure of products from developed countries. The respondents also said that when a Korean product is valued at $100, a Japanese product would be worth $149 while a Chinese product would be $71. 

Now cosmetics are basically a non-cyclical product, its all the same chemicals no matter the name or inert color. So even Koreans are willing to spend much more on a similar product if its made overseas (in cosmetics at least). I could say something snarky about fakes, but let me just leave you with, perhaps Korea needs to learn brand building begins at home.


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