The feud between the David and Goliath of vegan oat-based products continued when last month Glebe Farm, the British independent, family-run business that grows gluten-free oats, unveiled a billboard campaign at London Victoria station to promote a major rebrand across its entire product range. One of the straplines read, “Oatly sued us. We won. Because you can’t beat true. British. Oatmilk” and encouraged consumers to support its brand and to buy British. Another read, “Oatly sued us. We won. Now help us pay off our lawyers”.
For those unacquainted with the Oat Wars, almost two years ago Swedish-owned Oatly filed court claims for trademark infringement against Glebe Farm. The case was eventually dismissed at the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court after a judge found that there was no likelihood of confusion between Glebe Farm’s PureOaty branding and Oatly’s trademarks.
Brand matters. So companies should be able to protect their intellectual property. Any potential confusion surrounding brand design and attempts to “pass off” similar products should be defended, in the interests of the brand owners and the consumers they serve. But such challenges should be backed by reliable consumer insights, rather than going with your gut feeling.
Glebe Farm’s billboard may have unwittingly backfired. While mentioning their competitor Oatly in the billboard provided free advertising, it also marked them out to be the villainous corporate giant. Oatly’s response was pitch perfect. While acknowledging the shout out, it also pointed out that it was looking forward to opening its new UK factory in Peterborough next year, buying oats from British farmers, creating 200 new jobs. Oatly also wished its future neighbours well.
Effectively, it managed to neutralise Glebe Farm’s unique selling points of “Britishness” and “locally-sourced” while highlighting the shared goal of creating a more sustainable food system.
There are more effective ways for purposeful brands to achieve the same objectives. For example, the Dutch chocolate manufacturer Tony’s Chocolonely has been championing the Fairtrade movement since 2005 to make slave-free chocolate the norm throughout the industry. Fast forward several years and the CEO Henk Jan Beltman found himself sharing a stage with Nestlé, one of its biggest rivals, who only just this year joined the same cause. As the rivals discussed the future of the chocolate manufacturing industry, they demonstrated the power in cohesion in vision – even amongst competitors.
Purpose can have positive outcomes for those leading a particular cause, and for those that follow regardless of market share.
Global research from our own Value Shift report revealed that protecting the environment whilst working towards a new sustainable future was the number one consumer value.
Consumers from all around the world agree that as sustainability becomes even more integral to how consumers wish to live their lives, businesses and brands will be expected to demonstrate their role in this shared responsibility.
Surely it’s better for businesses and brands to work together towards a common purpose – particularly those valued so highly by conscious consumers such as sustainability, animal welfare and human rights – rather than attempting to usurp your competitors with antagonistic advertising campaigns.