The question of the week is: Team Cuthbert or Team Colin? And yes, if you’ve missed the news, that’s a genuinely real problem we’re faced with.

In the ‘food fight’ of the century, M&S began legal action against Aldi to “protect” their iconic Colin the Caterpillar from its rival chocolate sponge roll, Cuthbert. Apparently there’s nothing more important going on in the world right now… So this is where we are.

Colin And Cuthbert Go To Court

M&S have argued that the similarities between the two caterpillars mean consumers think they are of the same standard, enabling its cheaper rival to, and I quote, “ride on the coat-tails” of the company’s reputation for “high-quality food”. Colin the Caterpillar, who’s been around since 1990, is currently around £7 in M&S stores, whereas his knock-off counterpart Cuthbert can be bought in Aldi for £5.

Credit: Olly Browning

M&S has lodged an intellectual property claim with the high court this week, and reportedly has three trademarks, including the words “Colin the Caterpillar” and the packaging. Their favoured outcome of this battle is to have Cuthbert removed from the shelves and never to return in future (including under a new name)… Ouch!

With it being obvious that you can, in fact, find caterpillar cakes in pretty much every supermarket across the country, many are thinking that this is either an unorthodox PR stunt by M&S, or perhaps even a joint venture by the two brands.

I like the thinking, and you can’t deny that this may pan out to be one of the most high profile legal cases of the decade. But is this battle actually doing either brand any favours? Here’s what I think.

Will Either Caterpillar Make It Out Alive?

There’s no question that both M&S and Aldi have attracted a great deal of publicity this week. The nation is as divided as it was in 2016, with many championing the traditional Colin the Caterpillar, and others sticking up for Cuthbert. Both brands have been the talk of the news and social media, but is all this publicity doing either any favours?

Famously, not all publicity is good publicity.

I’m actually torn as to whether this court case has done M&S any good at all. They’ve got a famously reputable product that they’ve been channelling a lot of marketing spend into recently. Have they gone too far with this legal battle and ended up actually unravelling their hard work? Here’s what I believe…

Colin is getting a reputation

I think one of the most unfortunate things to come out of this now-notorious case, is that poor Colin is getting quite the reputation. Nobody likes being copied, but taking another to court over it? Now that’s a little extreme. Though Colin was dragged in to this by M&S, I can’t help but think he’s a bit of a brat right now, to be honest.

Un-doing M&S’ branding efforts

M&S have famously being going all out over the past year, spending a fortune on marketing their two iconic products: Percy the Pig and Colin the Caterpillar. You can now buy just about any Percy the Pig merchandise you could ever want, whilst Colin’s been busy getting himself a wife and kids in the form of mini Colin rolls. M&S often frequent my TikTok ‘for you’ page with mini sketches. It’s clear their marketing team has gone all out with these two characters. Does this court case send them a few steps back? Though it’s undeniably giving Colin a great deal of publicity, it’s also unravelling (in my opinion) the hard work done in marketing his personality and character. I’m not too sure if I even like Colin all that much at the moment.

Giving Aldi great publicity

If publicity was the aim for M&S, then they’ve got it. But so have Aldi. Obviously there are some who think that this is a joint PR stunt by the two brands, but I’m not convinced. Just because it doesn’t seem to be doing M&S’ image many favours right now. Aldi already has quite the reputation for being a bit cheeky and risky with its comms – I recall their very first TV adverts (that I remember anyway) being an unapologetic comparison of how much cheaper their products are than the big fours’. A lot of us are team Cuthbert, after it’s quite rightly been pointed out that there are dozens of look-a-like Colin’s on supermarket shelves – why go after Aldi? Clearly, the brand’s been having a bit of fun with the situation though, putting out an absolutely cracking social media post last night…

Promoting other competitors

Perhaps the most ironic thing, is that this legal battle has actually given the limelight not just to Cuthbert, but to his cousins in other supermarkets too. Yesterday, the talk of social media was the various caterpillars of the UK, and how they fair against one another. This is not a new argument, but it’s one that has brought to our attention even more so in the last few days than ever before, I’d argue. M&S has got people talking about Colin – but at what cost? Everyone’s also talking about the copycat versions too, which incidentally are cheaper and arguably a lot more accessible.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I really fancy heading out to pick up a caterpillar cake right now. (But will it be a Colin? Well there’s the issue I guess).

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments below.

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Jessica Pardoe

Senior PR at Source PR