This scandal’s got legs 🐛
Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water after the Suez Canal crisis, we’ve got another scandal on our hands. And, if anything, this one’s got more legs. Dubbed the ‘trial of the century’ by some observers, Colin vs. Cuthbert walks all over Solange vs. Jay-Z, Cardi B vs. Nicki Minaj and even Rebekah Vardy vs. Coleen Rooney in terms of raw intensity.
This is not just any court case, this is... #FreeCuthbert— Aldi Stores UK (@AldiUK) April 15, 2021
We’re into the second week of this baking bad scandal, and it’s fast capturing the imagination of the nation. It’s really divided opinion: Who’s in the right? Who’s in the wrong? And how nasty could this retail riot get?
Despite his youthful appearance, Colin is 30 years old, having hit the shelves of M&S in 1990. With a white chocolate face and feet, and a milk chocolate body that resembles a Smartie-encrusted turd, he’s been a staple of children’s parties for three decades.
That kind of domination of the sweet, bug-shaped baked goods market has resulted in £105m in sales for M&S. That’s over a million quid per leg! He’s the first word in last minute treats for your colleague/mate/partner on their leaving do/birthday/your anniversary. So it’s no surprise Colin inspired a slew of copycats, with other retailers vying for a slice of the action.
The new kid on the block
There’s no mistaking the similarities between Aldi’s Cuthbert and Colin. He sports the same white face and stupid expression, which butter-flies in the face of the three trademarks held by M&S in relation to Colin. M&S are saying the similarities between the two are misleading consumers into thinking they’re of the same standard. They’re calling Aldi copycats, and bad ones at that. But is Cuthbert merely a poor man’s Colin?
Through all of this, there’s a very real risk that M&S are inadvertently exposing their own insecurities that Cuthbert might just be every bit as good as his spiritual ancestor. The student becomes the master. By paying attention, they’re paying little Cuthy the biggest compliment he could get.
But Aldi isn't the only offender
There’s plenty of other imposters going quietly under the radar, of course. There’s the alliterative efforts: Asda’s Clyde the Caterpillar, Tesco’s Curly and Waitrose’s Cecil. Then you’ve got Morris from Morrisons and Wiggles from Sainsbury’s. All of these chocolate coated squishy sponge treats can trace their lineage back to Colin. There may be differences - a few sprinkles here and there, or a different coloured face - but the general idea is the same.
So, why are we so interested? And, more importantly, why are M&S?
M&S are saying that Cuthbert infringes on Colin’s trademarks, and that Aldi are ‘riding on the coat-tails’ of M&S’s reputation. But they could say that about any of the other copycaterpillars on offer. So why are they picking on Aldi? We think it’s a class war.
Despite his dependable, down-to-earth working-class name, Colin weighs in at an ever so slightly boujee £7. Col is a covertly posh cake that The Guardian described as ‘quintessentially Tory’ - course they would!
By comparison, Cuthbert is only £4.99, which naturally appeals to the thriftier shopper. And that’s where the battle lines are drawn. There’s the accepted market leader, setting the industry standard, with the premium price tag to match. Or there’s the new kid on the block, doing basically the same for much less.
As consumers, your choice is simple. You’re either a traditionalist, on the side of the establishment (no prizes for guessing who that is), or you’re a revolutionary, ready to usher in a cheaper future where no one holds the monopoly over friendly-faced insecty cakes.
The social media war is definitely being won by Aldi, though. There were some seriously funny shots fired early on. And they’ve since worked hard on trending #FreeCuthbert on Twitter, with tweets like "This is not just any court case, this is... #FreeCuthbert” and “Cuthbert has been found GUILTY… of being delicious”.
We know how it feels
Whilst we haven’t officially taken a side, we feel for Aldi. We know all too well what it’s like to be on the receiving end of legal action over intellectual property. In the not too distant past, we produced and sold a trivia game named P. Did He?, based on the wild and wacky world of hip hop - with just a gentle nod to one rapper in particular (who we can’t name for legal reasons!).
Apparently, said rapper’s legal team felt this game duped consumers into thinking it was an officially endorsed product - much like what M&S are saying about Cuthbert. We argued it was a homage to one of our favourite figures in music, and that the rapper in question wasn’t known for his card games. Sadly, though, that fell on deaf ears. And our game was banished to the archives.
We’re just living for the thought that he did actually get to see the product, and at least raise a smile in appreciation for the genius name.
If you are him, we’d appreciate it if you reached out to let us know if this did happen.
So we’re watching Colin vs. Cuthbert with bated breath. There’s likely to be as many twists and turns as… well, you know. But if our experience is anything to go by, little Cuthbert is gonna need a bit more than a hashtag and some smart tweets to survive.
And, if you are perusing the shops in the future, and you stumble across P. Did He? in the reduced bin, don’t be confused into thinking it’s an official product. He’s clearly made a global reputation for making high quality card games. And we wouldn’t want to damage that…