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Business Comment

Claire Beale on Marketing and Branding: Confectioners in court over a choccy bar


Not many chocolate fiends are particularly fussy about the form their cocoa fix takes. Whether your chocolate comes in squares or buttons generally matters less than what it tastes like.

But in the world of confectionery marketing, shapes are corporate assets worth billions of pounds. Picture a rectangle of chocolate-covered wafer divided into four slim fingers and you will almost certainly think "KitKat".

Such is the distinctive shape of the Nestlé-owned bar that it's been the subject of a brutal and intense legal battle between Nestlé and arch rival Cadbury.

Back in 2006 the KitKat shape was registered as a trademark, giving Nestlé exclusive rights to the distinctive four-fingered bar. Enter Cadbury's lawyers, who challenged the notion that the shape could be owned. Cadbury won and KitKat lost its exclusivity.

But you don't spend almost 80 years and billions of pounds building a brand like KitKat without fighting to protect your investment. So Nestlé went back to the courts and has just secured a Europe-wide ruling that prohibits rivals from launching a chocolate bar that looks like a KitKat.

It's not the first time Nestlé has drafted in the legal heavyweights over KitKat; the firm went head to head with Mars to protect its "Have a break" slogan.

And Cadbury itself called the lawyers to protect its "ownership" of the distinctive purple colour (Pantone 2865c for pedants) so indelibly associated with Dairy Milk.

It's important because, as consumers, our brains are wired to respond to visual stimuli that create associations with a product.

That's why companies spend so much money. It's what transforms commoditised products into brands and it's why brands are often the biggest assets companies own. And it's why we surely haven't heard the last of the chocolate shape skirmish.

Next week: Danny Rogers on PR and advertising

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'