Anti-counterfeiting tactics need rethink

31 January 2017

BEIJING: The fight against counterfeiting of luxury brands is failing to recognise some of the main motivations for purchase, research suggests.

An academic study, New insights into unethical counterfeit consumption, featured in-depth interviews with Chinese consumers as researchers sought to identify psychological and emotional insights that drive consumption of counterfeit goods, and the coping strategies used by purchasers in relation to their unethical behaviour.

"Given that the nature of a market is 'where there is a demand, there is a supply', a comprehensive understanding of the psychological and cognitive processes underpinning consumption behaviour of counterfeits is crucial and has important theoretical as well as practical implications," explained Dr Xuemei Bian, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent in the UK and one of the authors of the study.

More specifically, she told World Trademark Review that economic factors were not uppermost in people's thoughts

"Chinese consumers see counterfeit goods as a form of 'legitimised' competition or as simply another choice in a crowded marketplace, almost as if counterfeits are offshoots of the actual brand," she said.

"Consumers acknowledged that counterfeit product offerings rely on the authentic products, yet they appeared to accept the thesis that counterfeits co-exist with authentic products."

Further, for many consumers, it is the very illegality that is attractive. The study observed that the "thrill of the hunt" was a "a pronounced intrinsic motivation" and added a sense of excitement to the shopping experience; some subjects also talked of "taking pride in being part of a 'secret society'".

Having bought fake goods, respondents had two main arguments to justify their behaviour: denying personal responsibility, as there are so many counterfeits on the market; and – apparently counter to their claimed efforts to hunt down fakes – saying they "liked the product, not because it is a brand".

Any shame they felt was not related to the ethics of buying fakes but to potential embarrassment at being caught between lying to friends in maintaining an item was genuine or admitting it to be counterfeit.

"The findings indicate that marketing campaigns that emphasise the legal and moral wrongs of counterfeiting might not have an immediate impact," said Bian

"Anti-counterfeiting strategies should be focusing on addressing consumers' coping strategies, loopholes in supply chain management, and psychological concerns."

Data sourced from World Trademark Review; additional content by Warc staff