Is Instagram doing enough to stop the flood of illegal sponsored ads for counterfeits?
Instagram has grown as a platform for businesses through targeted ad placement. Sponsored posts, which monetise the Facebook-owned app, can uniquely link to external sites through posts and stories, making it easy for users to buy products they see but also for enterprises to interact with niche markets. Companies that use Instagram marketing effectively are reaping the rewards of Instagram as an inbound haven, particularly through targeted posts which see soaring engagement compared to other social media sites: research by Forrester showed that in 2015 consumers were 120 times more likely to interact with ads on Instagram than on Twitter, and 58 times more than Facebook.
Why Counterfeits on Instagram are a problem
What’s unfortunate is that Instagram’s success as an advertising platform seems to have overtaken its policies. In many reported instances it has failed to properly vet advertisers, with the result that sponsored posts are increasingly advertising counterfeit goods, likely to actually damage a genuine brand’s sales as consumers frequently believe the slightly-discounted products are real.
As The Fashion Law reports, Instagram is now flooded with adverts for fake Yeezys, knockoff Fendis and whatever else counterfeiters think they can push, linking to pop-up fake websites selling goods. There is insufficient data on the effectiveness of these fake ads but with marketing data indicating that 30% of consumers have bought a product discovered on Instagram, it’s likely the illicit campaigns have reaped reward. The sites easily fool consumers, with sharp design often consistent with a brand’s aesthetic. Product photos, too, look real, unsurprising given the advancements in manufacture that mean counterfeit products today are all-too-often visually indistinguishable from the genuine thing.
We’ve previously written on how this has caused a trend to intentionally purchasing counterfeits which could reshape the luxury fashion market, but at least this trend is not deceiving consumers. Counterfeit goods that do not identify themselves can be purchased and used without consumers ever discovering the truth - and so a brand’s trademarks and equity are surrendered wholly and permanently into the hands of inferior and unregulated products.
It's not an easy problem to solve
Just how are Instagram getting away with this? To answer this question it’s necessary to understand the general legalities here. Whilst it is definitely is illegal to sell fake goods, it’s not illegal to link to illegal sources even in advertising, as long as you can prove a lack of awareness and you comply with any takedown requests on the basis of copyright and/or trademark violation. It’s for this reason that Google can link to illegal sites, and piracy websites that offer links to third-party video hosts are difficult to take down.
The spread and longevity of the problem is, however, surprising. There have been many instances of trademark violation on Instagram ads, including a fake Apple Instagram ad dating back to January 2016. Whilst Instagram assure that the problem is being investigated, many are arguing that Instagram’s open-door policy for advertisers should have been addressed long ago - after all, parent company Facebook is a founding member of the Ads Integrity Alliance.
The issue points towards a growing need for global brands to establish brand protection strategies as the world becomes more connected. E-commerce has exploded in popularity in recent years, and although brands can see the benefits of this the changing market calls for greater online security. Many companies are implementing tech-driven solutions that can automatically scan targeted areas of the internet to detect and remove any instances of brand abuse. A good solution will use industry relationships, such as with social media platforms or e-commerce sites to prioritise takedown requests for, in some cases, instantaneous results. It will also be aware of new ways that counterfeiters are operating as they try to avoid detection, like selling fake goods on WhatsApp groups, and will work to monitor these types of techniques before they can become more widespread.
If you’ve discovered an IP violation of your trademark or copyright on Instagram, take a look at this guide to Instagram’s takedown process which details how you can submit an infringement. The guide outlines that the process usually takes 2-5 days for a successful removal. Shutting down the fake website will be more time-consuming, involving a complaint made to the relevant internet service provider hosting the site. Alternatively, you can research into brand protection solutions which can automatise the legwork, highly recommended for multiple online infringements. Take a look at our free eBook for advice in selecting a brand protection solution for your needs: