Red Points looks into the peculiar problem of counterfeit stationery, which has seen an increase due to improvements in manufacturing and demand for low-end products in poorer economies.
Counterfeiting is no longer limited to knock-off Rolex watches or Louis Vuitton handbags, as products affected include everything from counterfeit postage stamps to sales of fake sex toys, mainly riding on the success of e-commerce platforms such as eBay, Amazon and Alibaba. Even lines of stationery are not ruled out in the trend of counterfeiting, as evidenced by a recent seizure of Dora the Explorer-themed stationery in Mumbai.
From Sharpie to Montblanc to BIC, classic designs within the pen world are becoming increasingly drawn-upon, and brand protection teams surely have their work cut out for them. But brands aren’t the only ones that counterfeit stationery can cause harm to. Chemicals such as phthalates, which are toxic in high exposures, are prevalent in children’s school supplies as they are used to soften vinyl plastic. In regulated amounts, these chemicals are useful and have minimal potential of causing harm, but high levels of exposure can have a serious impact on health, causing diabetes and reproductive issues.
As counterfeit goods do not undergo any health & safety checks, they have the potential to be made up of dangerous amounts of these chemicals. This is just what was found in a large seizure of counterfeit toys, some of which were found to contain high amounts of lead. Likewise, imitation-brand stationery products can dangerous as they do not meet trading standard certifications.
Over 80% of counterfeited products are made in China, as disused machinery from outsourced manufacturing provides easy means of production. An example of this phenomenon is in the Chinese town of Wengang, in Central China. Historically renowned for producing pens for over 1,500 years, Wengang produces, sells and exports billions of ballpoint, fountain and marker pens each year. But it’s a badly-kept secret that many of the pens produced in Wengang are counterfeits, mass-produced in factories by businesses all over the town.
This problem is likely to stick as China sharpens its focus on low-end, mass-produced goods in poorer economies. Where trademarked products such as BIC pens, and Kiwi shoe polish once enjoyed high sales in many African countries, imported Chinese imitations are gaining on the market, offering near-identical design and an incentive of a lower price.
Quality of production in China is improving, too. Where once the intricate design of the ballpoint pen eluded precision engineers in China, the five-year struggle of a steel company in mimicking the ballpoint design has at last proved “successful”, the BBC reports. For anti-counterfeiting efforts in branded stationery, it seems the pen is no longer mightier than the sword.
As practically any industry can be affected by counterfeiting, all brands should take steps to measure their own level of brand counterfeit. Most particularly, brands should endeavour to assess counterfeiting of their products online to protect their equity, as e-commerce sites and apps continue to make up the majority of counterfeit sales. Along the same line, by staying sharp on trends and new ways of counterfeiting, companies can draw up informed and systematic strategies that threaten counterfeiters’ commerce platforms and thus the structure of the counterfeit industry.