Is Coles branding misleading?

Yesterday in its ‘essay’ section, the SMH published an article by Robert Laughlin criticising how easily patents are granted, thus locking up knowledge that in Laughlin’s view ought to be available for others to use. I have some sympathy for the view that intellectual property rights have gone too far, with the benefits (and there are some) not being sufficient to compensate for the costs. This is why I am inclined to think that parallel book importation laws should be relaxed.

So it was a little ironic that the lead news story in the same paper was an attack on Coles for supposedly misleading consumers by using a tick symbol on its products (which I notice Coles has trademarked, with a circle around it), which it is alleged is too similar to the Heart Foundation tick for healthy foods. While Coles is changing the tick, the paper claims that this is in reaction to “alleged misleading and unethical practices.”

But surely a tick is common sign for something being correct or good, which hasn’t been (and shouldn’t be) appropriated by any group or cause for its exclusive use?

The argument against Coles seems to be that in its contextual use on food it is too easily confused with the Heart Foundation tick. But in the context of a Coles supermarket it’s pretty clear that it is part of the store’s branding, and not a sign that the product is good for the heart. On a quick wander around my local Coles this morning, I noticed the Coles tick on laundry detergent, toilet paper, and an iron. Few customers are likely to think that consuming these products would be good for their hearts.

While the SMH did find an 84-year old who says he was confused by the tick, I don’t think this is enough to justify forcing Coles to change its logo or to give it a page one beating up.

5 thoughts on “Is Coles branding misleading?

  1. But what is the point of the tick logo if not to mislead? The fact that it reminds the consumer of the Australian-made symbol, the Heart Foundation symbol, etc, implies that this product has been approved by some third party, when it has not. To allow Coles to do this is to damage the value of all of those symbols.

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  2. John – As my post suggests, Coles uses the tick to create a positive association. I’d say they picked it because market research suggested that customers believe house brands to be of inferior quality. A tick creates a visual suggestion that they are not. Generally misleading perhaps, but a similar claim could be made of almost all visual prompts in advertising.

    They and the Heart Foundation are both drawing on a generic meaning, and neither should be able to claim exclusive use. Similarly, star symbols are often used in advertising, eg NAB. It should not be restricted if some health organisation happened to decide to use it as a symbol.

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  3. Well hey, Coles might as well start a “Good Health Foundation” and give the Good Health Foundation gold star to all of their products. Yes, it’s advertising, and it’s legal, but if everyone does it then the Heart Foundation symbol, the Dolphin-safe symbol, Australian-made, Landcare, whatever, will be lost in a sea of meaningless junk. If home brands are unpopular, why have them at all? Didn’t Coles used to have Farmland, which was a perfectly respectable brand?

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  4. I’m sure we all want it to be possible for reliable and recognisable accreditation of products by third parties.

    However, in this case surely the responsibility belongs to the Heart Foundation to choose a logo that is not so generic as to be confused with other reasonable logos. It would hardly be reasonable for The Heart Foundation to have exclusive use of a very generic symbol that I am sure long predates it.

    So Even if Coles were doing this deliberately, the blame should go to THF for not foreseeing this risk when choosing their logo in the first place.

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  5. I think that the media should stop looking for a reason to bagg on Coles. Coles is the First Australian Retailer chain est.1914 and provides Australians with low prices everyday & also helping our community with charity work and donations.
    So from me to the media. “Instead of sitting on your arses and attacking a great company, get off your asses and go out into the real world for some quality news and issues that need to be adressed”…..
    -Coles Employee
    “Proud to be Coles”

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