A side by side comparison of the Amazon Basics bag and the Peak Design Everyday Sling.
Here’s the reality for entrepreneurs, inventors, and startups: If your product launch is successful, the copycats won’t be far behind. Congratulations! You have a hot product. That’s no easy feat. Now it’s time to keep fighting to get paid.
But how? There are numerous tools and strategies available for product developers to protect and defend their interests from copycats and counterfeits. Fundamentally, you need a multi-pronged approach to prepare for and respond to the competition. Today, one of your best bets is building an army of raging fans. In my opinion, that’s the best protection you can have right now. Not only will they come to your defense when you need them, they will continue purchasing your product along the way.
Why fight in the court of law — which, speaking from first person experience, is expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally exhausting — when you can take the fight to social media?
If you are in the business of making truly innovative products and services, you need to embrace being first and being the original with every fiber of your being. You need to use social media to tell your story over and over again in new and creative ways. The audience you cultivate with your authenticity will grow with you and cheer you along. There is strength in numbers. By cultivating a voice and using it, you can level the playing field.
That’s exactly the approach that Peak Design, a 10-year-old San Francisco-based company that manufacturers high-end camera bags and other travel equipment, took when it recently discovered that Amazon had come out with a me-too product. Since it launched its first product on Kickstarter in 2011, Peak Design has utilized crowdfunding to involve its customers in its design process and reduce risk. In 2019, it raised a whopping $12 million dollars from more 27,000 backers to bring a more compact portable tripod to life.
Last week, it published a new video on its popular YouTube channel entitled “A Tale of Two Slings: Peak Design and Amazon Basics.” It’s a brilliant response to the Amazon bag for numerous reasons. First and foremost, it’s entertaining. Clocking in at less than a minute and a half, it wastes no time getting down to business. Using tongue-in-cheek humor, playfulness, and creativity, the video focuses on pointing out the absurdity of the situation Peak Design finds itself in, which is to say, that one of its biggest partners — which happens to be the largest retailer on earth — decided to release a bag that is strikingly similar to its Everyday Sling, list it using the same name, and sell it for a third of the cost of the original.
In the video, Peak Design isn’t asking you to feel sorry for them or outraged on their behalf. They don’t call out Amazon as the bad guy, referring to the company instead as “a revolutionary service that we use and benefit from heavily” in the copy below. They don’t even attempt to persuade the viewer not to purchase the Amazon version.
Instead, the video focuses on effectively relaying the reasons why the Peak Design bag costs so much more, leaving the final decision up to the consumer. The video ends with a voice-over that says, “The Everyday Sling: By Peak Design and Amazon Basics. Whichever one you buy, you’ll get exactly what you paid for.” Who can argue with that? No one!
Since the video was published last Wednesday, it has been viewed more than 4.5 million times. CNBC reported that Amazon changed the name of its bag soon after the video went live. Fans of Peak Design have flooded the page for the Amazon Basics bag with negative reviews.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
For CEO and founder Peter Dering and his marketing team, the response generated by the video could not be more thrilling — or fun.
“We’ve heard back more profoundly and thoroughly from this than any piece of marketing collateral that we’ve ever put out. Which is funny, because I didn’t even really consider this to be an ad, or even marketing material. They threw a punch by knocking off our product, and this is just us punching back,” Dering told me in a phone interview. “Not only is this marketing collateral, it’s the best piece of marketing collateral we’ve ever created! It wasn’t immediately obvious to me that it was going to be that.”
The video has racked up tons of comments from people who sympathize with Peak Design and commend the company for its humorous and brave take.
Humor is among the many strategies Peak Design is using to beat copycats and sell more product. Dering is a big believer in intellectual property. Typically, Peak Design bags are protected with design patents and trademarks. (Some aspects of its bags are also protected with utility patents.) Notably, Peak Design has a design patent on the 10-liter, 6-liter, and 3-liter versions of its Everyday Sling bag, but not the 5-liter version, which is the size of the Amazon Basics bag.
However, Dering doesn’t believe that having a design patent on the 5-liter bag would have made much, if any, difference. After all, the designers at Amazon are smart and savvy, he pointed out. “I think that they’ve changed the design enough such that it could get around the design patent,” he said.
Copycat products are nothing new for the company. Day in and day out, Peak Design plays a never-ending game of whack-a-mole against knockoffs online using intellectual property, with the help of the brand protection service OpSec. The Amazon Basics bag came on the company’s radar in December of last year. After Dering determined that they didn’t have a strong enough case via traditional intellectual property to pursue anything, he started brainstorming how to respond with his marketing team. Their main intention? To spark joy in their customers and fellow employees.
It worked. “We’re having a blast,” Dering said. “This has been one of the funnest weeks in the history of Peak Design.”
Dering intends to continue filing patent applications in the United States and overseas.
“We’re better at understanding which IP tools are effective and which ones we really need to have, and also in which regions, because we’re a very international business. It’s never a no-brainer to patent every aspect of a design or a product,” he told me.
Chinese and Taiwanese patents are the two most important to get overseas, he said. Why? Because China is prolific in the amount of knock-offs it generates, a huge market, and most often the point of shipment for these companies, and Taiwan is very proficient at making excellent knockoffs.
Dering has also protected the interests of Peak Design by diversifying the way that it sells its products. Amazon accounts for about 20 percent of the company’s sales, putting them in the top slot. However, Peak Design products are also found at big-box retailers like REI and Best Buy, specialty camera stores across the states and around the world, and on its website. Building and maintaining all of these channels is hard work, Dering added.
Peak Design’s response to copycatting is delightful. Today, everyone who is successful at the business of bringing new products to market knows what it feels like to get ripped off. But when you decide to sue someone, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll come out on top.
There are better ways of fighting back and getting paid for your creativity. By approaching an unfortunate and awkward situation with its signature blend of warmth, humor, and wit, Peak Design earned millions of views, loads of positive press, and loyal admiration from their fans. They’ve likely made a few sales along the way as well.
Stephen Key is the world’s leading expert on how to license a product idea. He achieved repeat success as an independent inventor, including defending his intellectual