Are we losing the fight against counterfeits?

Pursuing a holistic and realistic approach to brand protection and anti-counterfeiting we explore whether scaled, coordinated and targeted consumer education and awareness campaigns are an effective tool for addressing the ongoing demand for counterfeit goods.

Are we losing the fight against counterfeits?

It often feels like it. Countless raids in China, the country billed as the primary manufacturer of counterfeits. Countless Customs detentions around the world. Countless take downs with automated systems trying to compete as the counterfeiters exploit the global market made available by the internet to the full. Etc. Etc.

Targeting demand

I have long concluded that a truly holistic approach requires us to address demand as well as supply. Which means getting the message across to consumers.

Consumers do sometimes knowingly buy counterfeits. But if they knew more about the consequences of their purchasing decisions, I like to think the majority would change their ways.

Many others purchase counterfeits unknowingly, and would make very different purchasing decisions if they were better equipped to tell a suspicious offer for sale from a legitimate one.

Which means – to coin the phrase – if we can win the hearts and minds of consumers we will go a long way to making a much more significant dent in the problem.

Convincing consumers

It is easy to think that those consumers who knowingly purchase counterfeits would be difficult to convince to change their ways. It’s a tough sell, especially when there are many categories of goods which consumers feel are overpriced, thus leading to counter arguments like “well, it’s their fault”, or “they deserve it” or “they haven’t lost anything because I would never buy the real thing at that price anyway”.  And others where consumers simply don’t see the harm.

But even these arguments can indeed be successfully addressed with sensible, logical, debate, as I have found out on many occasions over the past 3 years involvement with the INTA Unreal campaign.

This is a public awareness campaign introduced by INTA in 2012 aimed at 14-18-year olds. The simple objective is to raise awareness in this vital demographic about the value of trademarks and the consequences of a proliferation of counterfeits. You would think this would be a really tough audience, as I certainly did when I first stood up in front of over 200 sixth formers at a comprehensive school in Kent, England. But I could not have been more wrong. From the first story about the counterfeit factory in Thailand where the child labour was literally terrorized into working unceasingly for 12 hours a day, and others setting out evidence linking counterfeits to terrorism, they were totally engaged. When debated, their arguments in favour of counterfeits were addressed and, I think, overcome.

This has been repeated in every presentation I have given to schools in England ever since. And likewise, the countless other INTA members involved in the Unreal campaign giving similar presentations around the world.

If 14-18-year olds can be persuaded, surely other consumers can too?

We certainly see evidence of this. Drink driving campaigns. Stop smoking campaigns. Remember “Just say No” to drugs? And more recently the clamour to “do something” about plastics on the back of a hard-hitting David Attenborough documentary. All have touched a nerve – some more easily than others. None have been 100% successful, and of course they never will be. But all show the impact which cogent argument can have.

Which makes me think there is much more that can be done to raise awareness amongst consumers to the harm done by counterfeits, and to help them spot and steer clear of offers for sale of counterfeits. I see isolated, ad hoc, campaigns regularly (for example the UKIPO’s campaign targeting departing holidaymakers leaving the UK, and similar efforts in France targeting consumers at tourist hot spots), but nothing with any great scale or persistence.

And since so much of the trade in counterfeits takes place over the internet, it seems to me there is much (more) which could be done by the big e-commerce sites, working together with brand owners, to “educate” their users.

It feels like we could do so much more if we got together on a global scale and coordinated our efforts.

All of which would require commitment not just from “government” but, crucially, from brand owners whose resources will be a vital component.

Is there an appetite for this?

I speak to brand owners constantly and my feeling is that the appetite is there for awareness raising initiatives provided they are suitably generic and thus do not risk driving custom away from any given brand.

Over the course of the coming months we plan to look at the demand side to counterfeiting in more detail, showcase some of the best practice education and awareness campaigns we have seen, as well as explore practical steps that brand owners can take to develop their own education and awareness initiatives and/or join in with existing ones.