Media Matters | Good vs. Evil: Taking Back Control from Counterfeiters

The 4A’s thanks Sargi Mann, Director of Search Marketing, Carat USA for providing this insight. Ms. Mann serves on the 4A’s Digital Marketing Committee. This bulletin is the second in a series of educational pieces to help 4A’s member agencies.

With the Internet now an integral part of everyday life, recent illicit online activity has become a center of attention and concern for many. Team that with ever-evolving technologies and you have a recipe for “knock-off industry.” The issue has become magnified and complex over the years, with serious impact on legitimate businesses, including the luxury goods, pharmaceutical and entertainment industries. The promise of cheap prescription drugs or luxury items has generated billions for the counterfeit industry. In addition, one particular site selling counterfeit luxury items garners 146 million visits per day (Source: Compete).

In order to proactively take back some of the control from the counterfeiters, here are some checkpoints that could be set up to safeguard the brand (as well as the consumer) from illicit businesses:

  • Check if you are a victim: The first step is to invest some time to establish whether your business has been impacted by the counterfeit industry. There are multiple industry tools available for you to do so without launching an extensive investigation. If budget is an issue, then a few searches for your branded terms across various search engines can showcase the type of results coming up. Take the time to go through the top five pages and manually check the paid ads as well as organic listings. This exercise can help provide a directional analysis.
  • Own your brand name online and file trademark: There is nothing more important than to ensure 100% coverage of your brand and branded assets. Many times, search marketers, are asked why the brand should bid on their own brand name if they have the first position on an organic listing. The reason it’s important to bid on your own branded terms is to ensure that the users see your message when they look for you. Additionally, it’s really cheap for a brand to bid on their name because they will have the highest relevance score on it. And finally, organic listings are not controlled. You cannot have the guarantee that even if you have the first organic listing on your own brand, that it’s exactly the information you want being pulled. Paid search allows scale when it comes to coverage across various keywords. Organic search is limited from that angle. It’s nearly impossible to have a site that can be optimized for the potential thousands of keywords, unless you are a very large corporation. Trademark filing with the search engines is a quick and easy exercise for you or your legal department. Filing this paperwork ensures that people who are not authorized to use your brand name are not exploiting consumers by misleading messaging in their ads. If an ad has a brand name that does not belong to them, then it gives out the impression that they have your permission to do so.
  • Address counterfeit head on: Take the bull by the horns. If your brand belongs to the category where you constantly lose business to illicit businesses, develop a content strategy to address the matter. Often luxury brands don’t want to be associated with words like “cheap,” “sale” or “discount”; however, not utilizing these keywords to direct traffic to your own branded assets can have major business implications. If you have factory outlets, then you are better off directing traffic from these keywords to your outlet stores.
  • Geo-targeted messaging and location-based advertising: Another strategy that can help make consumers averse to fake products is to utilize geo-targeted messaging and location-based advertising. If you know where potential illicit activity is, support them with your branded messaging. This will warn users against illegal business in those areas.

The above steps can help you form your search strategy to address the counterfeit issue. Adapting your approach will help demonstrate how search contributes to the overall marketing effort, and drive business value for the brands.