Sumita Vaid

Flatron vs Flatotron: The argument continues

LG has accused Sansui of plagiarism. It says the latter’s brand Flatotron sounds similar to the LG brand Flatron

Two products competing in the same market is normal. Two products competing for the same market with similar sounding names is worrisome.

In the eye of the storm with such a dilemma are two of India's major electronic goods companies. The brands in question are LG's colour television Flatron and Sansui's CTV model Flatotron. Both share common markets across the world - including India. And back home, the Korean electronics major has accused the Japanese consumer electronics company of plagiarism.

On May 31, 2002, Lowe, Delhi, the advertising agency handling LG's television account, shot off a letter addressed to Gaulbert Pereira, secretary general, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), on behalf of its client LG Electronics India. The letter intended to "…to reinforce the fact that Sansui is plagiarising LG's communication strategy to the extent that Sansui Flat TV is called Flatotron, which sounds like LG's Flatron, which was launched way back in November 1999."

In the same letter the agency alleged that Sansui has been misleading consumers with its five-second promos on sundry programmes across TV channels (such as Khabi Sautan, Khabhi Saheli on STAR Plus) by announcing, "This programme is brought to you by Sansui Flatotron." Contends Ganesh Mahalingam, general manager, marketing, LG Electronics India, "By doing so Sansui is riding on the strength of LG's Flatron to get a better foothold in the market. Under such circumstances the Sansui ad is tantamount to misleading the consumer. The issue is Sansui should not use the word Flatotron in such a manner that it sounds like Flatron."

Three months after the May letter, on August 21, ASCI's Pereira wrote back to LG saying, "The complaint under reference was considered by the Consumer Complaint Council (CCC) at their meeting on 25th July 2002... As per their decision, the complaint was upheld as the ad promo contravened Chapter IV, 3 of the code. The CCC concluded that the word ‘Flatotron' was so similar to the word ‘Flatron', pertaining to the product of another advertiser, as to suggest plagiarism."

Thereafter ASCI asked Sansui to ‘appropriately' modify the said promos. When Sansui failed to revert of the ASCI within the stipulated timeframe, the ASCI notified broadcasters that the promos "in their present form contravene the ASCI code". The implication being broadcasters should refrain from airing the Sansui ads.

As the battle rages, Sansui has its arguments ready. "Sansui India has not yet reverted to the ASCI because we are awaiting the response from Sansui headquarters," claims Anil Khera, CEO, Sansui India. "Sansui India is not in a position to take any decision on this because it has not decided the brand name Flatotron. Sansui Japan had coined the brand name. Also Flatotron is not only present in India, it is present in all parts of the world. How is it possible for Sansui to drop the name Flatotron in India, when it exists in other parts of the world? Since Flatotron and Flatron co-exist in every other market, why is it becoming such a big issue here?"

Khera goes one step further and questions LG's motive here. "If one goes by LG's argument then Sony should also ask LG to drop the name Flatron because it sounds like (Sony's) Trinitron. In any case, fact is we have referred the matter to Sansui's Asian headquarters in Singapore. Let's see what happens," he adds.

While LG and Sansui continue trading verbal fisticuffs, some marketers feel the issue is being blown out of proportion. For one, Arvind Mohan, strategic planner, McCann-Erickson, believes, "There really isn't any deep moral issue here. In fact, I find this quite amusing. LG should be concentrating on its marketing efforts instead. It has nothing to worry, since it has tremendous recall."

The point is can either of the players really increase their sales or market shares by resorting to such antics? "I do not think so. Fundamentally the consumer has to get interested in the product first," avers Mohan. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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