HONG KONG: Rather than simply relying on legal enforcement to address the problem of counterfeit goods, brands operating in China should also consider demand-led actions, two academics have argued.

"Knowing who buys these fakes and why can help firms get a handle on what can be done to dissuade the customers in question from doing so again," said Lars Bergkvist, associate professor/marketing at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, and Li Wanzhen at the EDHEC Business School.

Writing in the China Economic Review they profiled five types of buyer, based on qualitative research carried out by their university, and suggested tailoring strategies accordingly.

Thus, dupes think they are buying real brands when they're actually buying fakes and need to be educated into understanding that "alluringly cheap branded products" may be imitations.

A group which neither knows nor cares about brands were described as insouciants for whom no demand-side activity is relevant.

Happy-go-luckies are young middle-class consumers who are understand they and their friends are buying fakes and even swap tips on where to buy the high-quality ones. For this group, two possible approaches are suggested: either introduce products at prices they can afford or use advertising to disparage people who buy fakes.

Wannabes may be from a similar age group but these are more aspirational and live in fear of being found to use counterfeit products. And cheapskates can afford the real thing but sometimes buy fake items to save money.

For both these groups, the loss of face if caught using fake products is the major deterrent. So the authors suggest educating the buyers of genuine branded products on how to spot knock offs in order to make it more likely the wannabes and cheapskates will be identified.

Such an approach, they add, "would also provide an opportunity to highlight the superior quality of genuine products to customers and potential customers".

Data sourced from China Economic Review; additional content by Warc staff