New Articles

Social Media Solution to Counterfeit Culture


Social Media Solution to Counterfeit Culture

Like so many of my peers, bored and stuck at home during the pandemic, I downloaded Tiktok. As I scrolled through the (admittedly addictive) videos of comedic bits and I came across one Tiktok that gave me pause. In the video, an unseen user unboxes a “Louis Vuitton” handbag.  But this handbag was not a real Louis Vuitton bag (which could range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars) but, actually, a “dupe”. The video shows the authentic-looking shopping bag, box, ribbons, dust bag, and even fake receipts and certificates. The bag looks real, with logos, stitching, pattern, and design all intact. Following the hashtag, I discovered hundreds of other videos where users brag about and display their designer “dupes”. These items ranged from shoes to bags, accessories, jewelry, and even a water bottle!

It’s fairly easy to figure out the appeal of designer “dupes”. Millennials and Gen Z are both fully immersed in social media. They strive to create an online profile that is happy, successful, and affluent. Affluence is defined by vacations, cars, shopping, and status symbols. These status symbols vary from group to group, but we all are aware of the particular items and brands that indicate status. And we all want those items, both just to have them but also to show them off. The problem is, we can’t all afford them.

Enter the dupe. These knock-off and counterfeit items look identical to the real thing, but they are sold at a fraction of the cost. To the millennial or Gen Z buyer, it’s a great deal. They get their status symbol, show off to their friends online and in-person and maintain their image…all at a low, low cost! The best part, buyers figure, is that no one is getting hurt. That’s the part they get wrong.

Counterfeit products are often produced in factories run by organized crime. People working in those factories are subject to dismal, substandard working conditions. They work long, hard hours, and do not earn a living wage. These dangerous conditions and long hours can only be compared to sweatshops, long outlawed in the USA. Children are often employed at these sweatshops, forced to work at deadly jobs in unsafe environments.  With no regulations, toxic, cancerous, and harmful chemicals are often used in the production of counterfeit goods. The proceeds of counterfeit goods are used to fund human trafficking, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, and terrorist groups. Additionally, when consumers buy counterfeit products instead of purchasing from the genuine manufacturer, governments lose the tax revenue they would obtain from sales by the genuine manufacturer. These lost tax dollars could have been used to fund programs and changes in local communities that could improve the living conditions of the same people working to manufacture counterfeits.

Millennials and Gen Z are the “woke” generation. This is the consumer who is conscientious, educated, and willing to take a stand. They want to know the sources of what they buy and the policies of the brands they support.

When these consumers discover a brand or a company that has policies and procedures that align with their values, and they throw their support behind the brand, they can take a business from a small startup in a home to an IPO. Alternatively, should they discover that a company is violating their values or is dishonest in its practices, this generation of consumers can rain down fury. It takes one person to start a conversation that can mushroom into a movement that changes companies, leadership, and society as a whole. This woke generation—that seeks out information and is willing to fight for their values—seems at odds with the counterfeit culture. Why are they willing to buy an item that supports criminal ventures and the subjugation of workers? Why are they willing to use products containing chemicals that are potentially harmful both to workers and themselves?

Most brands spend thousands of dollars protecting their products’ authenticity as they move through the supply chain. They use covert, forensic, and digital strategies to detect counterfeit goods. They use tamper-proof seals, holograms, barcodes, security tags, QR codes, and micro markers, among other tactics. They train law enforcement agents to detect and seize fake products. They employ security experts to assess and manage risks. They engage lawyers to battle counterfeiters in the justice system.

For all the efforts expended and all the money spent, the one group businesses fail to engage is the consumer. Most companies do not make educating the consumer on the dangers of buying counterfeit goods a part of their strategy. These consumers, who are otherwise hyper-aware of product characteristics, may be totally unaware that a counterfeit purchase could be completely at odds with their otherwise conscientious buying habits.

To quote Michael Bierut, “The problem contains the solution.” Just as consumers may take to social media to show off a counterfeit purchase, social media can also be harnessed in the fight against counterfeit culture. Social media reaches more users than traditional advertising. It can be impactful, thoughtful, exciting, and memorable. Companies should take a two-pronged approach. First, companies should use social media to highlight the steps they are taking to improve their brand. Posting on the company’s social media pages, tagging other influential community members and supporters, and reposting messages that align with the company’s values are all excellent ways to position your brand as one that millennials and Gen Z can fully support.

The second tactic companies can employ is to utilize social media to educate consumers about the impact their counterfeit purchases can have on society. Companies can inform social media users of the effects their buys have and how they violate their conscientious purchasing habits by highlighting specific cases where human rights were violated, children exploited, toxins used, and companies or criminal organizations that are funded by counterfeit monies, among other harms.

The counterfeit culture, so casually and extensively displayed and flaunted on social media, can be countered. The consumer today is one that is willing to change. They will change their buying habits to support a brand that they connect with, is authentic, and has procedures and policies that line up with their own values. They will mobilize their friends and family to discourage practices that are distasteful, harmful, and detrimental to society. By harnessing the power of social media to connect with their consumer, companies can tap into that power, force, and energy to combat counterfeiters everywhere.


Bernard Klein is the president of Almont Group Inc. A dedicated father of three, he finds time to run and box while running a successful company that helps clients’ source goods overseas.