“Purchasing is very often more than just a simple transaction between buyer and supplier,” with consumption being a social experience in many cases, and the influence of others playing a role in what we buy. That same goes for the consumption and sale of counterfeit goods, according to a recent report from the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office, which surveyed 1,000 female consumers (“as the social media endorsements of counterfeit products are dominated by female influencers and a female audience,” the research population was limited to female consumers), to gauge the state of the market for counterfeits and determine the extent to which social media influencers facilitate the purchasing of such goods.
The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (“UKIPO”)’s top-line finding in connection with its survey was that 17 percent of participants (70 percent of whom were between ages 16 and 33) reported that they had knowingly purchased counterfeits in the prior year – and 13.3 percent revealed that their purchasing behavior relating to counterfeit products has, in fact, been influenced by social media endorsements. In other words, that 13.3 percent of respondents reported that they had “purchased counterfeits either deliberately or by mistake following social media influencers’ endorsements,” which the UKIPO contends “clearly demonstrates” that influencers are an noteworthy force in endorsing counterfeits and an “important channel to market for counterfeit suppliers on the other side of the world.”
In line with previously-reported figures, the UKIPO found that fashion and related accessories are top drivers of counterfeit consumption, with this category of goods being “particularly attractive” for younger consumers (i.e., those in the 16-33 age group), with 1 in 5 (20 percent) of survey participants admitted to buying counterfeit clothing or accessories in the prior year compared to 4 percent of older consumers.” (The UKIPO notes that it defined counterfeits to participants as “items that look identical to a genuine product with or without the official branding/logo, but are not made by the brand and may be of lower quality, for example, a handbag of identical design to a “Chanel” with or without the Chanel logo.”)
Aside from fashion apparel and accessories, which was the most popular product category when it comes to counterfeit consumption, according to the UKIPO, fake jewelry and watches, and beauty products were also noted as frequently purchased.
Another interesting takeaway about the mindset of consumers when it comes to counterfeit goods from the UKIPO’s findings is that 18 percent of survey respondents “believe counterfeits do not harm businesses and jobs,” 22 percent “believe counterfeits are not a health and safety threat,” and finally, a larger 33 percent (or one-third of survey participants) revealed that the trade in counterfeits is actually “the manufacturers’ fault for overpricing high brand products.”
The Rise of “Dupes,” as Platforms Eye Luxury
The timing of the UKIPO’s survey seems appropriate given the overarching rise of “dupes” both in terms of Google searches and on social media sites, including Instagram and TikTok, and influencers who have built sizable followings thanks, in many cases, to their posts on this topic. As TFL reported this past summer, while recent Google Trends data indicates that searches for the word “replica,” for instance, are steadily declining overall, searches for “dupes” have been on the rise in recent years.
“A browse through YouTube reveals innumerable videos presented by young, mainly female content creators that promote counterfeit clothing, accessories and beauty products to followers,” the UK IP body stated, pointing to one British influencer with 4.4 million subscribers on her YouTube channel, who “posted a video promoting counterfeit goods in May 2021 entitled, ‘I Bought Fake Designer Bags on Wish.’” The video – which features counterfeit Louis Vuitton, Jacquemus, Dior, and Balenciaga bags – has since been viewed 221,326 times.
At the same time, brands and marketplace sites are coming together to send public messages to influencers (and the public at large) in connection with their role endorsing counterfeit goods. Amazon, for instance, filed a counterfeit-centric lawsuit in November 2020, accusing influencers Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci of “engaging in a sophisticated campaign of false advertising” in connection with which they have “conspired” with sellers on Amazon’s marketplace to evade Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting protections by promoting counterfeit luxury goods – from Gucci belts to Dior handbags – on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and their own websites. That case settled in September, with the terms of the largely confidential agreement putting in place a prohibition against Fitzpatrick and Kelly-Krejci from “marketing, advertising, linking to, promoting or selling any products on Amazon,” and in terms of monetary damages being paid by the defendants, Amazon revealed that it would donate the sum to various non-profit organizations, including an anti-counterfeiting initiative of the International Trademark Association.
Not to be outdone, Facebook, Inc. (now Meta) partnered with Gucci in April 2021 to file suit against a single defendant – a woman named Natalia Kokhtenko –for operating “an international online business, trafficking in illegal counterfeit goods,” which has seen her use the “Facebook and Instagram [platforms] to promote the sale of [luxury brand] counterfeit goods,” such as Gucci handbags, shoes, clothing, and accessories, and running afoul of trademark law and “Facebook and Instagram’s terms and policies” in the process. That case is still underway in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Given the strikingly limited scope of both cases (there are far more than marketplace sellers and influencers hawking counterfeits on Instagram and Amazon), the cases are almost certainly part of a larger trust-building exercise aimed to luring consumers and brands onto these platforms, and enabling them to be viewed as a source of legitimate fashion. In much the same vein as Amazon, which has not been quiet about its ambitions in the fashion and luxury space, Reuters reported last year that “groups like Facebook, Inc. are keen to make a bigger push into the luxury market and ‘social commerce,’ but to do so they need to show that their platforms are not a conduit for counterfeiting and are safe for brands, some of which are reluctant to sell their products through third-party players.” Targeting counterfeit-peddling influencers is one part of that effort.