Posts by: Elisabeth Åhrberg | (2) posts

How cool are Converse when your grandma wears them?

The infamous reality star Snooki was caught on tape in the MTV reality show Jersey Shore carrying a high end label designer bag. The counterfeit police were alerted, but to everyones surprise, the bag was an original. When this came to the attention of the marketing director of said brand, someone in the marketing department was expected to get fired quickly. Who had had the poor judgment to place this respectable brand in the hands of a scandal beauty in a dubious reality show? Imagine the shock when it turned out that Ms. Polizzi, AKA Snooki, had bought the bag with her own money from an authorized retailer. I don’t know how this particular story ended, but I think a lot of telephone conversations took place, and I think the handbag was no longer seen in the show.

What I do know, is that the French fashion company Lacoste tried to get assistance from the Norwegian police to stop Anders Behring Breivik from wearing their shirts at the trial after the horrific shootings on Utöya in Norway. Of course the police could not assist them in this matter.

These stories show that in spite of the efforts made to fill your brand with positive associations, you have little influence on the environment where it is used and seen. Think long and hard about how you want to portray your brand, and how you want to be portraid. Besides choosing a name that captures the essence of your business, consider what image you want to convey. The more work you put into filling your brand with positive associations, the harder it is to undermine.

A good start is to find out as much as possible about your projected target customers. Who are they? What do they want? How can you make them feel secure in that you are the only one that can fulfill their needs or have a solution to their particular problem. Then you develop a brand strategy and make sure that you have a logo that constitutes an extension of your business and, of course,  will not be confused with someone elses logo. Think of your logo as a small ad for your company. Be sure not to start with a cool logo just to find out that it does not play well with your brand strategy, or, even worse, is easily mistaken for a competitors logo. More than one company has made this mistake and it can be costly to re-design and market a new logo. You can also take your time to come up with a story around your brand. Preferably a true story, because it will be scrutinized. My suggestion, of course, is that money spent on an IP consultant in this matter is money well spent in the long run.

Now to my question. Being a grandmother of two, and proudly wearing my Converse All Stars all summer long, I think it’s pretty cool for a brand to be able to attract generation after generation with sneakers that continuously renew themselves!

Elisabeth Åhrberg, LL.M. at Awapatent

Counterfeit brand products – A harmless tourist attraction?

What a bargain! A Gucci bag for 100 USD! A Burberry scarf for 75! Nike trainers, 25 US Dollar!

What’s the harm? Even if they hold together for just a year, they’re still a bargain. Right? I don’t care if they’re not original. They look alright, and someone made the effort of producing and selling them. Maybe I’m actually doing some good for someone less fortunate?

The excuses I’ve heard are endless. And if I had a dollar for each time I’ve been told not to care, I probably could afford an original Gucci bag. The commerce with counterfeit label products has always bothered me, and since I started working professionally with intellectual property rights, I feel obliged to take a firm stand against all types of counterfeit commerce. But as I learn more about the forces behind it, my stand point is no longer just principle. I have come to understand that there is a far more dark side to it than people in general know, or want to see.  There is a difference between a cheap price and a bargain. And the cheap prices offered by counterfeiters often come at a very high cost to others.

Counterfeit is one of the largest growing industries with a turnover of millions of dollars, and it is growing. As long as consumers buy counterfeit products there is no incentive to stop counterfeiting. But are consumers aware of what they are actually buying?

The working conditions in the factories are often horrific, and there is no such thing as work environment control or regulated working. The workers, often very poor, young people, even children, are subjected to toxic chemicals without any kind of protection. Shady criminal organisations are making lots of money on people’s will to buy cheap fake merchandise. If you are concerned that your local fashion store buys clothes from manufactuers using child labor, or manufacturers not taking responsibility for the colour dye used in the process of making your red top not being lethal, I suggest you think twice before even considering bying a counterfeit brand product. In most cases you can rest assured that they are manufactured under conditions that you would never accept from a cheaper brand. So why is it okay when the brand label says high end but the price tag says high street?

The International Anti Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC) list six reasons why you should never buy fake:

  • Counterfeiting is illegal and purchasing counterfeit products supports illegal activity.
  • Counterfeiters do not pay taxes meaning less money for your city’s schools, hospitals, parks and other social programs.
  • Counterfeiters do not pay their employees fair wages or benefits, have poor working conditions, and often use forced child labor.
  • Counterfeit goods are often made using cheap, substandard, and dangerous components that put the health and safety of consumers at risk.
  • The profits from counterfeiting have been linked to funding organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorist activity.
  • When you purchase a fake, you become part of the cycle of counterfeiting and your money directly support these things you would never want to support.

This is not a harmless tourist attraction. Depending upon the nature of the product being counterfeited, there can be serious health and safety concerns for consumers, such as in the examples of counterfeit baby formula, toys for children, medications, car parts, batteries, alcohol (containing methanol), or electronic goods. In nearly every instance, counterfeited goods are not made with the same quality materials or to the same high standards as the original.

Even when there’s no danger for the consumer, you should still consider the time, money and effort spent by companies to come up with, market and protect their brand. Years of hard work is put in by product developers, marketers, attorneys, sales managers etc. to put their product on the market. Authorized resellers cannot compete with the growing illegal market.

Furthermore, you should be aware that in some countries you can be prosecuted for buying counterfeit goods, and you do not want to get caught in customs in, for instance, Italy or France carrying a fake bag. Tourists have been fined up to 10,000 Euro by Italian police for buying a fake handbag.

I could go on and on about this topic, but if no other argument bite, counterfeit is theft. Plain and simple. Would you ever promote theft in any other area?

Elisabeth Åhrberg, LL.M. at Awapatent

© Comité Colbert. Poster from a French anti-counterfeit campaign, launched by luxury group Comité Colbert, French Customs and the French National Anti-Counterfeiting Committee, collaborating with some of the major French luxury brands.

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