The fight against counterfeit goods is one that almost every major international brand is part of, and for good reason.Counterfeits threaten brands by diminishing the exclusivity that luxury products offer. But most approaches to the fight against counterfeiting tend to a stopgap response that ignores the root issues.
Many brands have taken a legal approach, attacking specific counterfeiters, advertisers, or often targeting the top counterfeit-selling websites like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba. Other brands have responded by joining forces in anti-counterfeiting boards, or have appealed for consumer whistleblowing, but these responses ignore the fact that many shoppers are accidentally buying counterfeit products as they increase in quality. However, this is not always the case, with a worrying new fashion trend in 'replica' fashion, that is, high-quality knockoffs that damage the very core of a luxury brand's allure.
Given the increasing quality of fake products, it is more important than ever to minimise the appeal of counterfeits and develop sound strategies against them. Advances in technology are prudent as many methods are designed for consumers buying products on the streets - unrealistic in today's digital environment. We review some innovative approaches to brand protection, and offer food for thought for companies in selecting brand protection strategies.
In the 2012 retail release of Nike Air Jordan 4s, Nike added one subtle design feature - the word ‘TWENTYTWELVE’ embossed into the leather tongue beneath the laces. Counterfeiters did not initially notice the small change, and so Nike had a head start during the release period. The move builds on typical genuine approaches to distinguish genuine products from counterfeits, such as the ALE mark on Pandora jewellery. However, whilst Pandora’s mark has been much-copied in imitation products, Nike’s more subtle attention to detail in the Air Jordan 4 design is still frequently regarded as a ‘guarantee’ of authenticity.
In a 2015 move that recognises the importance of social media awareness, Ugg launched official anti-counterfeiting social media sites, educating customers on how to spot fakes and the importance of reporting them. The UGG website also has a ‘website-check’ feature that feeds intelligence on illicit retailers back to the company. The move works to humanise the UGG brand so that customers may think twice before buying fakes, as they have an awareness of how it affects the individuals behind the company. Kylie Jenner similarly responded to counterfeiting of her lip kits - taking to Twitter and Snapchat to draw attention to fake products. The TV personality emphasised the harm they were causing, retweeting consumers who had been spiked by fake products containing gasoline, or in some cases had stuck their lips together.
Joining the dialogue of the counterfeit fashion industry, Versace went so far as to release a fashion line inspired by counterfeit designs in London. Donatella Versace personally approved of the line as an “incredible idea”, stating that “it's fast, it's noisy, it's brazen”, thus in-keeping with the brand’s creative image as well as making a brave stand against counterfeiter appeal. In addition to this, the 2012 move filled any design gap in the market that counterfeiters were satisfying, in a nod to Jack Ma's opinion that fakes could be "better” than originals.
In 2006, Disney addressed a problem of counterfeited products in China with a marketing scheme that featured hologrammed stickers on products that could be used to enter competitions. Consumers peeled the stickers off genuine products and mailed them in to win prizes such as trips to Hong Kong's Disneyland, so the stickers rewarded consumers for purchasing genuine products as well as alerting them to products that were not. The scheme had a knock-on effect of providing Disney with intelligence on counterfeit retailers, as some customers would report products not featuring the stickers. As CIO points out, it also served them with a mailing list of over 250,000 customers, all of whom now had incentives to buy genuine Disney over counterfeits again.
In 2016 Rochambeau, together with tech startup EVRYTHNG and care label-manufacturer Avery Dennison, made history in fashion by releasing a technology-driven wearable that looked nothing like the Google Glass. A limited edition bomber jacket featured one invisible detail - an RFID tag. RFID is a tech similar to the NFC capability on your smartphone, and uses radio frequency to send a signal to a device close by, for identification and tracking. Levi Strauss used it to track inventory on the shop floow, but Rochambeau had bigger plans. The RFID tech made the bomber jacket a ticket to Fashion Week, as well as an exclusive unlock pass to VIP events, experiences and gifts around New York City. Perhaps a limited edition for now, but something like Rochambeau's bomber could never be replicated by a counterfeiter, and it shows how technology can be used to 'fingerprint' products.
These strategies work by maintaining an element of exclusivity and offering other new incentives to buy genuine, as well as recognising the appeal of counterfeits and directly competing with them. Surely the most effective among them employ technology, realising that a personalised connection with the brand is an experience that no counterfeiter can knock off. However, as the Red Points Brand Protection solution recognises, a human side of the process is also desirable, as no tech can - as yet - keep up with years of specialised industry experience.
In this, innovation and appealing to the changing demands of consumers is made paramount. Today, the core function of brand protection strategies should always pay attention to online counterfeiting, as growth of e-commerce platforms have resulted in rapid expansion of the global counterfeiting industry. The counterfeit problemt that the rise of e-commerce has provided is one that has oft been compared to a game of virtual whack-a-mole, but there are strategies that work to stop repeating IP offenders. As new counterfeiting capabilities evolve, so too should technologies that work to protect brands. A brand protection strategy should hold tech at its very crux, but be supported by human expertise to ensure of a constantly adapting approach as counterfeiters attempt to avoid detection.