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Society, Politics & Law

Why people buy counterfeit brands

Updated Thursday 14th February 2008

A key to combating counterfeit brands may lie in understanding why people buy them.

First of all it is important to say that there are two types of counterfeit product purchases by consumers. Deceptive counterfeiting takes place where the consumer does not know that they have purchased a counterfeit product. In contrast, non-deceptive purchases of counterfeit products take place where the consumer willingly buys the counterfeit products. We’re dealing here with the latter type of purchase. If lawmakers and the producers of genuine branded goods want to take action against counterfeits as well as dealing with the suppliers they may need to consider why the demand exists. Much in the same way as health campaigns against cigarette smoking were based on understanding the various reasons why people smoke, so it is also clear that the consumption of counterfeits is a complex activity which has many causes that need to be understood.

A counterfeit Creative commons image Icon priceminister under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license
A counterfeit iPhone

There has been a significant amount of research into why people buy counterfeit brands and the types of people who may be more willing to buy them. Unsurprisingly people who have relatively little regard for the law will be more likely to purchase counterfeit products. Also people who have negative attitudes towards big business are more likely to buy counterfeit products. This may be because they feel that genuine brands charge unfair prices, those people who see themselves as being shrewd shoppers willing and able to beat the system may also be more likely to buy counterfeits. Counterfeits may also appeal to those people who want to demonstrate their status, but don’t have the funds to do so with genuine products. Another factor that may encourage counterfeit consumption is where people are curious and want to experiment. Some people are also comfortable with taking risks and doing something that is illegal may not be a problem.

"an individual’s crime may not be obvious to those around them"

As an illegal activity, what is peculiar about buying and using fake brands is that this is something where an individual’s crime may not be obvious to those around them. The consumer knows of their true origin, the people amongst whom the consumption takes place will only know if the consumer tells them, depending on the quality of the manufacture. So are counterfeit brands popular because they are difficult to distinguish? Or is it because there is a cachet to having bought something much cheaper than the genuine product (even if it is fake)?

The most obvious factor motivating consumer purchase of counterfeit products is their relatively low price but it is commonly appreciated that such products will be of lower quality than genuine products. However some research has found that people who have previously bought counterfeit goods believe that they are as good as genuine products – no doubt that will encourage them to repeat their actions.

Clearly the manufacturers of branded goods have a great deal of work to do when it comes to consumer perceptions of counterfeit goods and the attractiveness of buying them.

Find out more

  • Fake football shirts - Can Umbro stop the flood?
  • Counterfeiting Exposed: Protecting Your Brand and Customers by David M. Hopkins, Lewis Kontnik and Mark Turnage, published by John Wiley & Sons

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