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Combating Counterfeits: the Role of Influencers


The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has commissioned some new research into the impact of complicit social media influencers on the consumption of counterfeit goods in the UK. The analysis has been conducted by academics from the University of Portsmouth and Michigan State University.

Just published is the second report in a series. This issue focuses on the susceptibility of males aged 16 to 60 to purchase counterfeits endorsed by social media influencers. This extends the earlier commissioned study which concentrated on female consumers.

Outlined below are some of the key takeaways we found interesting.

Influencers are Exacerbating the Counterfeit Problem

Counterfeit goods are of course a perennial issue for high-end brands. The growing danger is that social media influencers are playing a particularly significant role in promoting counterfeit goods. Whilst low-priced dupes may be a nod to the market leading products making sales easier for them, counterfeits take IP issues to a different, more dangerous level. It has always been a challenge to educate consumers of the harm in buying counterfeits. Influencer endorsement could take this backwards. It is frightening to hear that influencers, aware they are promoting counterfeits, are reassuring their followers that buying counterfeits is ok. 

The study finds that men are more than twice as susceptible to the social media influencer problem as women. 24% of UK males aged 16 to 60 had purchased counterfeits endorsed by social media personalities, compared to 10% of their female counterparts. The study finds that very few of the deceived were unaware that the products were counterfeit. So they know they are buying fake goods. 

Age is also a significant factor. Younger generations are found to be guided more by influencers in their purchasing behaviours, to be the most confused about the meaning of ‘counterfeit’, and to have a lower risk perception or a higher risk appetite.

That’s a heady cocktail of factors that can lead individuals to overlook the legality, possible quality and safety issues associated with the purchasing of counterfeit goods, let alone where the buyer’s money is going.

It’s an issue that extends across a whole range of product categories, although some are more impacted than others. Male sporting goods & sportswear (14%), clothing and accessories (13%), and jewellery and watches (10%) are the key categories. In contrast, for females, it is highly skewed towards clothing & accessories (10%), jewellery and watches (5%), and beauty and hygiene (5%).

Implications for Rights Holders

The situation, first of all, highlights the importance of trade marks, design rights and associated IP in giving brand owners the tools to take on infringers and get the selling platforms on their side to handle take-downs. 

It also points to the need for us all as an industry not only to increase education as to the dangers but also to engage directly with social media platforms and the influencer marketing industry to tackle complicit participants and disrupt purchasing pathways.

Both the IPO and the academics from The University of Portsmouth and Michigan State University should be congratulated for stepping up awareness and helping to quantify the scale of this issue.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

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