A Lidl Imitation: Brands and the irony of their subversion

A Lidl Imitation: Brands and the irony of their subversion

I fell in love with Lidl when I moved back to my home town, Leamington, in 2013. This followed missions to Afghanistan (after the Twin Towers fell) and many African countries with medical relief agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres – the best – and then Manchester, Cambridge and Oxford.

I hate supermarkets. They kill markets, smaller shops and producers. In fact, while living in Castlefield, Manchester, I wrote a (unpublished) novel about direct action and supermarkets titled, The Aisle. Lidl however, I love. Their shops are smallish (<2000 products). Account Managers are not incentivised to increase the product range to 100s of 1000s; no POS (point of sale) at aisle ends sold to huge corporations like Kraft, no music or audio adverts, and very few brands.

I’ll be honest, it was their bargain German pilsner, Perlenbacher that first seduced me. I had quit my job with OXFAM in Oxford, scaling up humanitarian responses to crises around the world. I was working at an organic community farm – still am – and we didn’t have much income – still don’t! So, every 4-6 weeks, I shopped in Lidl for essentials.

Lidl is cheap. So cheap in fact, that I don’t even really look at the prices. Cheap because there are less staff: always busy, with no menacing Tesco security guy behind CCTV screens; cheap because they stock fewer products: two types of olive oil i.e. virgin and extra virgin [insert joke here about preferring more experience]; cheap because they sell comparatively few brands.

Indeed, a key part of their marketing, they go toe-to-toe with our 'Big Four' supermarket behemoths, with posters extolling the benefits: 'save 40% shopping [‘unbrands’] in Lidl. This is genius. They go one step further; stocking dozens of ‘fake brands’. Products that the mimic colours and branding of Kellogg’s cereals, Branston pickle, or McCoy crisps. Again, genius!

From my point of view, this means less money for the marketing grads living in London; those who decided not to become artists because they couldn’t earn enough to buy stuff – like brands. Less money to spend when you are bringing up two young children on one charity income and some vegetables.

One splendid example of brand imitation was the story of Aldi - Lidl's German twin - imitating Brewdog’s 'Punk IPA'. I love the fizzy hop punch that is Punk IPA, an anti-establishment brand, which modestly calls itself, ‘The beer that started it all’. The craft beer revolution was in full flow and Aldi created a product called 'Anti-establishment IPA' ripping off similar light blue packaging. Brewdog is very marketing-savvy. So as the story goes, instead of serving a ‘cease and desist’ notice to Aldi (and probably failing), they did something extraordinary. Brewdog created a special edition Punk IPA called 'Yaldi IPA' in Aldi brand colours, which in Scottish slang apparently expresses purest joy!. Genius!

Yaldi IPA by Brewdog

The final beer spitting irony is that…Aldi began to stocking Yaldi! So, Punk IPA was copied by Aldi's 'Anti-Establishment IPA', Brewdog sent up Aldi's copy with Yaldi, and then Aldi started stocking the parody! Of course, in the capitalist system, they both win. The engineered media spat increases sales in both beers - which apparently taste the same - and both corporations increase their profits. No surprise that the German friendly fire, was with a British brand, either. Very clever.

The fact that I can't tell the difference between Lidl and Aldi, and originally thought the beer story involved Lidl, is hilarious, and serves to illustrate a point.

As the late/great Bill Hicks once said, “Irony [beckoning hand] – come on in!” To mark this bloggish moment, I have created two pieces of art in different collections, which parody Lidl, and Lidl didn’t like it! Firstly, A Lidl Imitation (Capitalism’s concentrated soup): ‘More British than British’ – Blitzed in reverse. The Liquid Capitalism collection highlights the impacts of capitalism on nature and consumption. The - Andy Warhol inspired - soup can sends up the more recent German blitzkrieg of Britain by Lidl and Aldi, while flying the Union Jack from all windows and packaging.

Secondly, my Lidl Women by Louisa May Shop Pangolin book cover design, which I devised in 2015, even before Lidl itself started to use the ‘a Lidl further’ joke in its signage. This design spoofs a great feminist novel, which addresses work, domesticity, and love, by placing a female assassin in the Lidl logo. It says Louisa May Shop, but then again, she may not. When I tried to order and sell coasters with the Lidl Women book cover design from Redbubble. Redbubble took the pre-emptive strike to reject it on the basis that ‘Lidl Stifling Ltd.’ Had previously taken legal action against artists poking fun at the German retailing titan.

Lidl Women by Ben Cowan Art That Makes You Think

As Alanis Morisette once sang, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? A little too ironic, yes I really do think…” If you, like Alanis, need a dictionary definition, then see my Ironic T-shirt definition T-shirt. If you like Punk IPA and you like Daft Punk music, you'll love my 'Draft Punk IPA' going out all night to 'Get Lucky' t-shirt.

Tell me your best example of irony – intentional or unintentional - in marketing or advertising. Answers on a postcard… Don’t forget to sign up to the blog…


[insert joke here]

Never Unknowingly Ironic

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