You’re in Manhattan and you find yourself on Canal Street, heart racing at the fun, mystery, and negotiations that accompany the search for the perfect knockoff handbag.  For those of you not familiar with Canal Street, it is a part of Chinatown in New York and is famous for housing secret, (but not really secret) counterfeit shops.  Typically the way it works is that you’ll see some obvious knockoffs in the store windows and as you get closer someone will whisper, “Prada”, “Gucci”, “Rolex” to you.  You give the nod, they perform a special knock or speak into a walkie-talkie and a secret door opens to a room full of counterfeit merchandise!

You then find your goodies, negotiate down the price and then you’re on your way.  With these products, it can be hit or miss and sometimes you get products that are amazing.  But other times you buy a purse and then 2 weeks later… ouch, your Coach purse handles become unsewn and fall apart, or you look down and the “P” on your logo is missing and suddenly your Prada purse just became a “rada”– yikes!

counterfeit purses

People love brand names and the status that comes with owning expensive products.  Sure, not everyone buys into this lifestyle, but clearly, many want to.  It’s too tempting to buy look-a-likes and counterfeit products when they are being sold for a fraction of the cost.  According to the World Trademark Review, the counterfeit market brings in $600 billion annually.  “Between the sale of phony pharmaceuticals, electronics, and luxury items, fakes represent about 7 percent of the global trade.” (racked.com)

And although you are paying pennies on the dollar for a counterfeit product, you are still paying a price.  You have to ask yourself, WHY is this purse so much cheaper?  Was it made ethically?  Are the materials safe?  These products can also be a hit or miss when it comes to quality.  The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind, and sometimes splurging for that brand name product is worth it for peace of mind.

As I’ve grown into my marketing career and have become a brand ambassador, my point of view on this market has changed.  I used to think that buying a knockoff handbag wasn’t a big deal, but now I find myself thinking about the impact it has on the actual brands.  In the promotional products industry, brand integrity is huge and as a distributor, it is something we take very seriously at Boundless.  I think about the moment a brand team stumbles upon imposters and how it must feel to have your brand you’ve worked so hard to build diminished by street counterfeiters.

Can you tell which Rolex is real?

In the branded merchandise industry this has become an issue as well.  What’s frightening though is that in these instances the reach is so much larger for the products that it amplifies the risks.  Instead of an isolated instance of embarrassment when someone is called out on their imposter bag, your clients, customers, and general brand advocates can face harm on a large scale with some imposter products.  In addition, once that happens not only are they negatively impacted, but your brand can suffer irreparable consequences.

A company spends valuable time and resources designing, producing, testing, and marketing a product, and once they are established that’s when the counterfeiters make their move.  The counterfeit products are being made at a much lower quality and users aren’t able to distinguish the originals from the copycats. Although counterfeits can seem innocent enough, there can be huge consequences to buying and owning fake products.

I read an article recently where a Michigan man was sentenced to prison after he was busted for selling knock off 5-hour energy drinks that he made himself – talk about frightening!  Can you imagine purchasing 5-hour energy drinks for an event and then having someone get sick off of who knows what ingredients were in them?!

So why do we put ourselves and brands at risk with promotional products?  Should we just abandon them due to risk?  Absolutely….NOT, because they work and are one of the most effective ways to connect with your target audience when done right.   They key is to work with partners who are knowledgeable about the risks, take them seriously, and have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to product safety.  I also believe that there are instances where if you cannot afford the premium brand, there are safe alternative products that are similar without being counterfeits.

At Boundless we recently launched the industry’s first fully transparent supply chain which provides product and social safety documentation for each product in the catalog.  With less than 1% of promotional product suppliers having certification, we took action to ensure we protect the brands we represent.  If you have a partner you are working with today, we encourage you to bring this up for discussion with them.  We even created a product safety tool for our clients to use that provides you with the appropriate questions to ask your partners to ensure transparency.  As you continue to promote your brand and build brand love moments, make sure you are asking those questions and protecting your brand!

Tiffany Price

Learn more about our Boundless Transparency Pledge here!