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Walking into Aldi can feel like stepping into an alternative brand reality. The products on the shelves look instantly familiar to ones we know from our childhood, but with enough differences to avoid crossing that legal fine line into copyright or trademark infringement.

Some of the biggest brands have spent a fortune perfecting their brand identity and building a reputation. Then along comes an own-brand product who mimics the look to sell a cheaper version. Cheeky. Maybe even unfair. But not necessarily illegal.

On the occasions when companies threaten legal action, Aldi uses its biggest weapon—social media. Along with big pockets and teams of lawyers, Twitter proved a big help in the Colin the Caterpillar row. Light-hearted tweets about “Marks & Snitches” and encouraging M&S to give money to charities not lawyers won the public over, and both parties subsequently called a truce. That doesn’t mean they always get away with it. Charlotte Tilbury successfully stopped Aldi from producing an almost identical makeup compact by proving copyright infringement.

So where is that fine line? I’m sure Aldi has a team of lawyers behind each new copycat brand they launch, ensuring the logo style, word placement, brand look and name are just different enough. Frustrating for those big businesses who’ve seen their ideas used as ‘inspiration’ for cheaper versions. But for the consumer they can instantly recognise the own-brand imitation, so they’re tempted to try this cheaper version. It’s a legal line supermarkets are willing to tread close to for the sales, and it’s a win-win for the consumer.

Written by Jason Connolly