The Battle of an Honest to Goodness Brand

In recent months, the larger supermarket chains have found themselves embroiled in controversy as a result of their price wars and less than market friendly tactics.  As Peter Singline mentioned in his recent blog, the plight of smaller brand owners, in particular the smaller milk producers, has been brought to the country’s attention causing widespread consumer outrage.

Despite the recent market pressure, Woolworths has once again found itself in the spotlight, with Organic Marketing Australia launching a case in the Sydney Federal Court this week.  The family-owned business trades as ‘Honest to Goodness’ and is alleging that Woolworths latest advertising campaign, featuring Margaret Fulton, infringes on its intellectual property.

The David vs Goliath battle, is set to cost Honest to Goodness owner, Matt Ward, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and years enslaved in legal battle.   The battle centers around the trademarked ‘Honest to Goodness’ phrase, which Mr. Ward argues can not be used by any other retailer or wholesaler of health foods.  Woolworths is countering the allegations on the grounds that Honest to Goodness is not a unique element but a common phrase that can be used freely.

At the heart of the allegations is one question; is Woolworths using the phrase as an integral part of their branding, or simply using the phrase in a descriptive sense?  Based on the campaign’s own branding, it would appear that Mr. Ward may have a strong case in his favour.

It is also worth noting that although Aldi have also been advertising ‘Honest to Goodness Savings’ in relation to their cheaper value proposition, they seem to have missed the media glare to date.  They might just find themselves attracting unwanted attention in the weeks to come.

The Honest to Goodness brand is a perfect example of how important it is to not only have a unique and engaging brand identity, but an identity you can own and preserve in the market.  It is not enough to create a brand based on visually stimulating imagery alone, if it is not unique and able to be protected by law.

If you would like to know more about creating your own unique (and ownable) brand identity, why not give us a call?

Nikki Williams
Client Account Manager
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  1. Great post Nikki – really thought provoking for many brand owners and managers I’m sure. As a brand designer I see a clear definition of whether a common phrase is used being used as just that or as an integral element of a brand communication campaign. In this case once Coles created a proprietary visual design – the Margaret Fulton Honest to Goodness Family Meals brand mark – they are quite clearly claiming it as their own brand property. The fact they’re contesting the case reinforces the conflict of interest they have between their own commercial success and that of the brands they sell through their stores. I have one question – what would our Aussie icon Margaret say about all this?

    • Thanks for the feedback David, and yes it would definitely be interesting to hear what Margaret has to say about all this. We may even be in luck if she is forced to comment to the media. It will also be interesting to see whether the legal dramas here have any impact on her own brand.

  2. Honest to Goodness would have thought they had clearly defined their go-to-market name and owned it in their market. It is go to see that owner and founder Matt Ward is going to put up a fight. It will be interesting to see if the courts agree with Honest to Goodness claim of copyright infringement though, when the Woolworths ‘Honest to goodness’ is clearly aimed at family meals.

    • I couldn’t agree more Tim, despite the difference in product offerings; organic produce v family meals, I still think Matt may have a case. I always love to see a ‘little dog’ go up against the big dog. At a minimum, Matt has already brought to the market’s attention the need for clear, unique and ownable brand identity.

  3. Good luck to Honest to Goodness (the organic food supplier, not woolies). It is great to see Matt Ward fighting as his own brand crusader, even if he doesn’t win in the courts, the respect he will gain from his customers and consumers loyal to Organic foods will be 10 fold.

  4. Sadly I have never heard of Mr Ward’s Honest to Goodness brand. If I didn’t know the details of the discussion I would have been led to think that Woolies came up with it first and was so successful that a little known brand was jumping on their bandwagon. Looking forward to seeing what happens.

  5. I have clients who sell through Coles, Woolies and Bunnings. And the consistent message I hear from all of them, is that the Goliath doesn’t value David as a “partner”. All I hear is that the Goliaths are consistently pressuring the Davids to reduce their margins or rebrand as an in-house (private label) brand.

    The trouble is that the Davids have trouble enforcing their own rights, because they don’t want to lose their avenue to market (as well as legal fees).

    It can be seen everywhere in the shops. There are Huggies brand baby wipes which have a deceptively similar in-house ripoff next to them. It’s almost hard for a discerning buyer not to be fooled.

    I think this demonstrates the value of registering trademarks, to protect your interests.

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