I browsed a Big Lots store recently while visiting my mom in Virginia. I hadn’t been in one in ages and was very curious about the state of cheap goods these days. While I do love a bargain, as a professional namer and brand enthusiast, it’s also my job to be curious about what’s on the shelves.
What I saw in the fragrance aisle certainly got my attention. (I’ll admit I knew nothing about knockoff scents, so this excursion into shameless copycattery was quite educational.) I’m happy to report that the imitation scent industry is alive and well and provides ample fodder for a master’s thesis in branding, pop culture, or psychology.
The names varied in style (from simple thesaurus raiding to fairly clever creative) but not intention. Both name and package make it crystal clear who you are buying at a discount.
Several opt for straightforward synonyms or translations: JLo’s JLove becomes Amore, Victoria’s Secret’s Bombshell becomes Stunner.
Some choose to repeat a word part or construction: Taylor Swift’s Wonderstruck becomes Wonderful, Paris Hilton’s Can Can becomes I do… I do…, and Sean John’s Unforgivable becomes Unstoppable.
And others try to capture the essence of the celebrity whose product they wish to cash in on: Jay Z’s Gold becomes The Man.
Copycat perfumes are not illegal, but the use of the trademarked name or package styling of the original has led to a number of successful US and European trademark infringement lawsuits brought by designers against knockoff companies.
The imitators cite the original clearly on the package (some even copy package design elements) with language like “Our impression of” and “Inspired by” followed by the name of the designer and fragrance (in all caps to make sure you won’t miss whose brand is being ripped off.)
A frequent target of suits from designers such as Prada, Victoria’s Secret, and Clinique, the scent ‘homages’ of New York-based Preferred Fragrance dominated the Big Lot shelves. Prada sued the company when the imitator offered Party Candy for $4 at drugstores as a sub for Prada Candy ($82 a bottle). Even the box design was similar.
The company tries to give itself legal cover with the line “Preferred Fragrance is not associated with the registered marks above,” but that’s a pretty tiny figleaf.
The most memorable fragrance name of the day, however, belongs not to a knockoff but to BOD Man. I had assumed this was an Axe wannabe, but Google search indicates BOD may have been hawking its bouquet de bro before its better-known competitor.
I did like the simplicity and double meaning of their body spray Fresh Guy. But is grouping a set of fragrances called Black, Most Wanted, and Really Ripped Abs self-aware meta-branding or simply offensive (or both)? You decide.
Smell ya later.