There are two things I like in this world: cosmetics and kpop (Korean pop music produced within the idol factory system).
What I don’t like: whack knock-offs. And yet here we are, as the Korean Wave is starting to crest in the U.S., dealing with pretty egregious and unpalatable fakes trying to capitalize on the trend by borrowing whole concepts down to minimally modified names.
Fuck this shit.
What the hell is EXP?
[Yeah, I’m aware of all the issues surrounding kpop, trust me, and yet…]
Keep in mind that there’s no dancing in their debut MV (pretty important in kpop). Fans have called out the group for appearing to capitalize on kpop supergroup EXO’s success by calling themselves EXP. Since they first surfaced in 2015, they’ve added “Edition” to their name, I guess because lifting from one boy group apparently isn’t enough.
EXP’s debut song isn’t terrible, but — like most knock-offs — it lacks the energy of the original (the top video is EXP, the bottom video is EXO).
How Garnier Moisture Bomb is Like “Kpop” Band EXP
While watching YouTube one day, a commercial came on for a new product and I perked up because it used language I recognized pretty well.
No one is talking about the moisture barrier?
When I looked at the product, it seemed pretty familiar. Garnier Moisture Bomb — it sounds an awful lot like belif’s Moisturizing Bomb and Aqua Bomb, right? Garnier even states that the products are “[i]nspired by the cutting-edge skincare trend from Asia.” I’d argue that Garnier is straight up ripping belif off.
This isn’t an original or earth-shattering observation — several people have noted the similarities already. Ju Rhyu, a Korean beauty consultant who blogs at Inside the Raum, noted the similarity between the Garnier and belif product brand names, textures, and imagery concepts. Carol G. commented on Musing of a Muse’s post about the spring 2017 Garnier skincare releases: “Is Garnier ripping off belif? Moisture bomb = aqua bomb.”
The names are even closer than that, Carol G. Not only is the name of Garnier’s US version of the cream remarkably similar to belif’s, some European versions include “Aqua Bomb.” When I realized that Garnier was coming close to using the name of a belif product (Moisture Bomb/Moisturizing Bomb) and straight up ripping off another (Aqua Bomb/Aqua Bomb) in products distributed in Poland, yoooo my head sort of exploded.
While the sheet mask combines Moisture + Aqua, the cream is straight up called Aqua Bomb.
I’m not unaware of the fact that cosmetics companies rip each other off all the time, but this seems pretty egregious.
What finally set me off was when I checked the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)’s database and found that L’Oréal, Garnier’s parent company, had trademarked the name Moisture Bomb.
Now, trademark is complex enough that lawyers specialize in it, but the basic idea is that trademark is established through use. So I had the trademark “fanserviced-b” from the moment I started “using it in business” in April 2014. Registering the trademark doesn’t mean that a company actually has the right to a mark — it’s just a useful way to pee on a corner of the business world’s lawn and say it’s yours. For example, even if, say, Amazon had come through and registered “fanserviced-b” in the blogs about beauty category as theirs before I did, I would still have owned the trademark because I used “fanserviced-b” for a beauty blog first.
That said, imagine how much money I’d have to spend to boot Amazon from that trademark registration! Registering a trademark mainly seems helpful for sending threatening letters, getting Google to stop people who try to use your mark without permission online, and sort of maybe in legal battles (as long as you truly have the right to use the mark due to using it first in that particular area of business). I’ve used my trademark registration to block a company from using my blog name to divert traffic to their shopping site (this is part of the reason why this fucking blog makes no money; it’s expensive to keep people from trying to make off with my shit.). Similarly, if belif’s (well, LG’s) lawyers looked at the Garnier products and thought that their trademark (established by use) was violated, they’d have to spend a fuckton of money outside of Korea to potentially kick L’Oréal/Garnier off that trademark registration and force them to stop selling the products or pony up some dough. [Lawyers, I obviously don’t law, so tell me if I’ve fucked anything up.]
The thing that set me off about this particular filing is the fact that belif had launched at Sephora in the US before L’Oréal registered the trademark. They filed July 9, 2015. belif launched at Sephora in April 2015. It’s possible that L’Oréal could have seen the launch at Sephora, minimally changed the name of one of the most successful and famous kbeauty products in the game, and registered that trademark a few months later. I’m not claiming this is true, but to me, the timeline is suspect as hell, and it’s bullshit that if LG/belif wants to challenge this, they’d have to pay out a ton of money in legal fees.
I don’t see a similar trademark filing by L’Oréal for “aqua bomb,” which is probably a good idea on their part since I don’t see how they could claim that they have the right to that mark (although I’m sure lawyers can try. I mean, some guy filed a lawsuit against Satan and his staff, so…).
More and more, especially related to the freelance beauty writing I do outside of fan-b, I get emails from companies that are wholly Western and claim to be somehow “kbeauty”. It’s possible that what’s going to kill the kbeauty trend isn’t even anything done by Korean companies or distributors, but the flagrant lifting of Korean beauty concepts, imagery, and branding — even to the point of what looks to be trademark violation — by Western firms, especially those with the pocketbooks and lawyers to fight off even legitimate claims.
Before publishing this post, I checked with someone who would know, and it doesn’t look like this Garnier/belif thing came about as a result of a collaboration or partnership; it’s just a rip-off.
And to be clear about my affiliations: I don’t work with belif and I think the bomb creams are merely fine (I prefer SN-T’s Plant Stem Cell Cream, which costs less). I consulted for L’Oréal, Garnier’s parent company, in 2017. Thanks for the $$$, L’Oréal, I used it to buy EXO tickets because I’m not here for the watered down version of anything.
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