Fake news, fake shoes: the blues of social media
Luxury brands must have the protection of their seal of approval at the center of their business models.
In a way, this statement is circular – a luxury brand creates desires in the market by signifying prestige; The current use of the seal of approval has evolved from its original meaning of a symbol or seal to signal the importance or prestige of the sender. However, this circularity does not exaggerate the importance of the brand and the values it conveys in the luxury sector, where brand is everything.
However, a luxury brand’s need to hold on to its values doesn’t mean it can’t move forward. Rather, there is a risk that, if its usefulness and importance do not develop, it will be usurped by competitors and alternatives that better correspond to the zeitgeist. This challenge cannot be better demonstrated than examining the social media engagement of luxury brands.
It took certain luxury brands to hit the high street for decades, and of course some never have. Part of protecting their prestige has been to convey a sense of cost, scarcity, and privilege. To achieve this, they have always vigorously protected their commercial and retail channels. This logic was carried over to online sales, of course, and it is not surprising that luxury brands did not adopt such distribution channels early on.
Instead, of course, the early adopters were the less reputable market elements – the counterfeiters. Luxury brands’ problems with counterfeiting are persistent and, although the forum may have changed, ongoing. For years, with the unofficial blessing of platform owners, online marketplaces seemed to offer counterfeiters a direct route to the market. Sure, the frustration of luxury brands trying to drag the marketplaces into their seemingly futile attempts to contain the tide of violations has occasionally been reflected in litigation against eBay, Amazon et al.
Social media was originally also a medium that was undervalued by luxury brands. However, the target market of many luxury brands has sunk into social media and if luxury brands don’t take that place, counterfeiters will. But now that luxury brands have awakened to the possibilities of the “social”, a symbiosis is emerging. One of the reasons why they recognized the value of social media was the success of fashion startups that have catapulted themselves into million-pound empires with the help of social media, such as the online retailer Gymshark.
Luxury brands have recognized that their long-established success model translates perfectly to social media by connecting with ambitious personalities who embody their brand’s values. The use of celebrities and the modern day phenomena of influencers like Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow) has helped luxury brands repopulate the space.
In fact, luxury brands have tried to do more than just occupy the space by using social media to lead the battle against counterfeiters. Using the example of Gucci through its involvement in the #GucciGram initiative, a collaboration with Instagram artists, it has occupied “Social”. But with her FAKE / NOT campaign she has also infiltrated the norms of the culture of counterfeiting in a socially and media-friendly manner. Described by Gucci as a “playful comment on the idea of imitation,” this campaign builds on its “Guccy” collection and pokes fun at the obvious flaws often displayed on counterfeit goods.
Of course, luxury brands’ engagement with social media to challenge counterfeiters has also been driven by creative lawyers and IT professionals who can now use tools to crawl social media to actively monitor counterfeiting. Unfortunately, the challenges in this global whack-a-mole game as infringers and counterfeiters find increasingly sophisticated ways to bypass IP protections and avoid detection can test the patience and budget of even the most exclusive brands.
However, this is where the social media platforms themselves come into play. For fear of being held liable for the infringers who sell their goods through their platforms, especially as social media sites are evolving into retail channels. And possibly more fearful of the luxury brands stealing their advertising and retail business from them (think Nike and Birkenstock are pulling out of their partnerships with Amazon due to a lack of control over counterfeiting), Facebook and Amazon seem to be taking counterfeiting seriously now.
In fact, Facebook and Amazon’s response to these pressures has been consolidated in their recent IP reports. Both have three focal areas for fighting counterfeiting, which are broadly similar: robust screening and surveillance controls, trademark protection tools, and criminal prosecution of counterfeiters by the court and criminal referrals. In particular, Facebook notes that rightholder partnerships “are critical to broader efforts to combat IP violations and send a clear message”.
In addition to closely monitoring social media to detect fake activity and defend intellectual property, luxury brands are now entering into a dialogue with the major platforms to work together to protect their ever-precious hallmark, such as when Gucci recently launched a joint US lawsuit Filed against Facebook with Facebook by a fake seller who uses Instagram as a shop window to market fake luxury items. The seller used sophisticated methods to bypass Instagram’s automated counterfeit detection methods and took advantage of multiple Instagram accounts to target customers.
So, with the challenge ahead, luxury brands should keep doing what they always have:
- Maintain a strong IP portfolio, including trademarks, designs, and copyright protection;
- Introduce anti-counterfeiting mechanisms such as specific, invisible features or digital tags that enable counterfeit goods to be identified quickly; and
- Participate in robust monitoring and enforcement both online.
Today, more than ever, with social media platforms and online marketplaces, luxury brands should leverage their commercial skills to seek collaborations to share the cost and hassle of monitoring and protecting their most valuable assets.
This article was originally published by the Luxury Law Alliance.