Confronting the counterfeit problem head on…

Brand owners should actively monitor those who hide behind their brand and counterfeit their products online

I have lived a relatively sheltered life when it come to holidays.  As a youngster it was the golden beaches of St Ives, then the safe environments of five star all inclusive resorts on the Med. But as you get older, and more exotic destinations become accessible, wanderlust takes over.  And that is why I'm writing this sitting on the Terraces L'Alhambra, overlooking the chaos of Jamaa El F'na, the centre of life in Marrakech.

To my left I can see snake charmers using music to make their serpents dance. Just behind them storytellers hold the attention of small crowds dining on freshly grilled meat from the make-shift barbecues set up in the middle of the hub-bub. But what has really grabbed my attention are the small shops and stalls selling branded football shirts and luxury branded clothes.  These are the stalls being frequented by the tourists whilst the locals who try and make snakes tango look on forlornly.

Traditionally, the shopkeepers of the Souks would have to display their finest patter to get tourists into their shops.  Today they simply hang up a Barcelona football shirt or a pair of Jimmy Choos. And like a moth to a flame, the tourists are all drawn in.

All of the shopkeepers will tell you that the items are genuine despite the fact that they sell them (pre-haggle) for just a tenth of the price you can find back at home.  The Barcelona shirt is the most popular both with tourists and locals alike, costing just 30 dirhams (about £2.75).  It looks genuine, feels genuine and has all the right labels on.  These aren't Mike's or Addidas - they look the real deal.

This may seem harmless to the real brand owners, and indeed there is little they can do to stop shops like these in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt selling them. Ironically there could be an argument that the fake shirts sold at such a low price, and thus affordable for locals, is actually good for brand building.

But the problem comes when some of those greedy tourists see an opportunity to make a big profit, buying dozens of the cheap fakes and then bringing them home to sell at inflated prices.  This is where the true damage is done.  Because the people they are selling to can afford the real thing.  By buying a fake, cash in invariably passed into the black (and illegal) economy.  Mass market importing of counterfeit goods is not carried out by your opportunistic tourist. It is carried out by big-business criminal gangs.

So what can brand owners do to try and stop this? Educating their consumers and potential customers is a good start.  Confront the problem face on.  Acknowledge the goods are counterfeited. Show the public what a counterfeit looks like, where its faults lay and then explain why they should avoid paying even a fraction of the cost for one when they wander these mystical alleyways in Marrakech, Istanbul or Cairo.

Secondly, brand owners should actively monitor who is selling their products.  Online auction and listing sites are the simplest way to get counterfeit goods in front of potential customers. But companies such as NetNames are able to work with brands to identify where their products are being sold and whether they are genuine or not.

So next time you are wandering down through the local markets, with your "kiss me quick" hat on, covering your sunburnt head, resist the urge to pick up that fake Lacoste shirt and think that "no one will know it's a fake down the pub" because they will.  You will. And unless we change our ways, the problem will never go away.


Written by Stuary Fuller, Director of Communications, NetNames

24 August 2012