Colin or Cuthbert?

Like many others, I have been closely following the Colin & Cuthbert the Caterpillar Twitter gate. The biggest showdown since McGregor v Mayweather. It was quite refreshing to see these two heavyweights go caterpillar to caterpillar rather than the usual COVID-19 debates.

M & S and Colin aren’t very happy with Aldi and Cuthbert because of the similarities of the two products and so M & S are threatening to sue Aldi; despite other major UK retailers also selling their own caterpillars: Curly, Clyde, Cecil, Charlie, Morris and Wiggles.

Are M & S fighting a losing battle?

Has Aldi just proved there is no such thing as bad publicity?

Well, let’s find out.

On Thursday 15th April, news that shook the world of children’s parties, office birthdays, and millennials, Colin the Caterpillar laced up his six boots and went to war. M&S has filed an intellectual property claim with the High Court against Aldi, in an effort to protect their chocolate-covered swiss roll celebration cake, and demanded that Aldi stop selling their copy cat-erpillar, Cuthbert.

Like Prince, Madonna and Boris, in birthday party circles, Colin needs no second name, with over 15 million sales under his belt during his 30 year life.

Such is the cult of Colin that M&S created a female version – Connie the Caterpillar – who sports a pink bow. You can also buy Colin in mini-roll form, as gummy sweets and sour sweets, and, hauntingly, stand-alone Colin faces. The Colin canon is broad and terrifying.

The first imitator was Wiggles from Sainsbury’s in 2011, who was shortly followed by the rest of the army. (An army is what you call a group of Caterpillars by the way) For the most part, the caterpillars are extremely similar: all are chocolate Swiss roll sponge with chocolate buttercream, and chocolate covering, decorated with sweets. All the caterpillars have shoes extending down the length of their bodies, and a cartoon face that could generously be described as sort-of reminiscent of a caterpillar, or maybe a train that has come to life. The packaging is also near-identical: long, rectangular green boxes with cellophane windows showing off the cute little caterpillar.

So why now? Why Aldi? Why Cuthbert?

Perhaps, some cynical sorts have suggested, this is not, in fact, the landmark case of intellectual property law it purports to be, but in fact, a PR stunt confected by the rival supermarkets. Certainly, Aldi’s social media over the weekend hasn’t suggested that they’re quaking in their Caterpillar boots.

Marks and Spencer is quoted as saying:

“Love and care go into every product on our shelves. So we want to protect Colin, Connie and our reputation for freshness, quality, innovation and value”.

But has this all the signs of a publicity disaster for Marks and Spencer?

There is no doubt that Colin the Caterpillar is valuable to Marks and Spencer but have Aldi’s tweets proved the company should have thought about it more before bringing the action? 

You definitely came across the brilliantly funny social media campaign from Aldi’s Twitter account #freecuthbert, you couldn’t miss it, it was everywhere! The newspapers, online, Colin even got an interview on This Morning with Philip Schofield.

Let’s make sense of it all;

Marks and Spencer bit the bullet and lodged a claim with the High Court against Aldi for infringing on the Colin-related trademarks that Marks & Spencer owns.

Naturally, Marks and Spencer want Aldi to remove the Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake from their stores and to refrain from selling anything similar in the future.

Aldi’s witty and punful tweets stole the limelight of Marks & Spencer’s sue claims but when the fun dried out, Aldi suggested that they all put this nonsense behind them and that they “raise money for Charity, not lawyers.”

However, M & S completely missed the mark with some Twitter users calling the retailer “pathetic”. M & S suggested that Aldi just use their own character and threw Kevin the Carrot Cake into the mix. Poor carrot probably already has enough on his plate.

So was this all worthwhile for M & S? A PR Stunt or Stint?

According to the stats, Aldi’s news sentiment increased by +8.5%, purchase consideration +6.08% and Social Engagement 460,629 while M&S seen a decrease of 134.1% in their news sentiment, a 2.72% decrease in purchase consideration and only managed to get half of Aldi’s social engagement with 253,581.

I feel that answers the question… perhaps they should have left Cuthbert alone?

Courtney McGoldrick is a third year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram & Twitter.

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