P&G calls consumer attention to counterfeits

With more than 300 product brands, Procter & Gamble has had to take legal action over a dozen times in the past couple of years against those who would sell product in similar packaging, hoping to cash in on P&G's wealth of brand equity.

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But in July, the master marketer spotted for the first time an outright copy of its popular Head & Shoulders shampoo bottle. While in the past P&G has preferred to handle these cases discreetly, this time was different. The company took out ads in newspapers across the country calling attention to the phony bottles and encouraging consumers to call for a free replacement if there's any doubt. (P&G also alleges there's a potentially harmful bacteria in the shampoo inside the fakes, although tests at FDA haven't confirmed it.) P&G sued at least two distributors-Quality King in Ronkonkoma, NY, and Omni Sources Intl. in Aventura, FL-to halt distribution of the product. Quality King alleges it purchased the product from Omni Sources Intl., who won't confirm the transaction. Omni says any false product it may have purchased came through at least two other distributors. Both companies say they're innocent and promise to cooperate fully with P&G. An attorney for Omni believes P&G's investigation has led to a party in Canada but this couldn't be confirmed by P&G at presstime. The packages themselves are patterned after an older long-neck design that P&G abandoned in February of this year in favor of an updated container with a shorter neck. Apart from the long necks, the fake bottles give themselves away by the absence of the chasing-arrows recycling code on the bottom. Also, "the bottle quality doesn't meet our standards," says Deborah White, a spokesperson for P&G. "There are blemishes or fractures around the necks. Plus the caps are different and don't fit as well." The labels, however, look identical, but P&G believes they're counterfeit as well. Although the fakes were found on shelves across the country, the company estimates only a few thousand bottles were involved at the most.

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