KFC, formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, has declared war on competitors who try to "pass off" its take-away products as the Colonel Sanders original (see page 14). For the hospitality industry as a whole, it is important that KFC wins this war.
Branding is a successful marketing tool, and is especially important in an international market such as hospitality. Choose a brand name that will translate into different languages, and you may be able to multiply success in one country worldwide.
The bigger and more successful a brand name, the more tempting a target competitors will find it, and the harder the owner will have to fight to protect it. On the basis that competition makes companies more efficient and forces them to give value for money, this philosophy of defending brands should be good for the industry and for consumers.
KFC's complaint is straightforward: it believes its imitators are trying to give the impression they are serving the original KFC, complete with its secret blend of seasonings.
This is very different to the latest brand tussle in the cola market, where Sainsbury's last week launched its Classic Cola. This is considerably cheaper than Coke or Pepsi (both of which Sainsbury's also stocks), and initial market research says regular cola drinkers either prefer Classic or couldn't decide between brands. Sainsbury's briefed Coca-Cola representatives in advance on the new cola, and has received no threat of legal action so far. Imitation is flattery.
Something similar is going on in the budget hotel sector in Britain. Forte has defined the standard for motorway lodges, with its Forte Travelodge brand, and several other companies, including Whitbread and the Accor group, have launched competitors to it - but there are no Forte "lookalikes". This will keep Forte on its toes and keep prices keen, and as such is a good thing.
Passing off is the lazy route to competition. The KFC brand embraces the name and the product, including those mysterious herbs and spices, and no one should be allowed to paint up an imitation shopfront and get away with it. KFC is right to defend its stake in the market, as every brand owner should. o