Insights Influencers and counterfeit goods: UK Government publishes research

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has published the results of a study it commissioned seeking to quantify the impact of social media influencers on the intentions of male adults to purchase counterfeit products. Influencers are regarded as trusted opinion leaders in their online communities, and rights holders leverage this trust by offering products to influencers who can help promote them. However, some influencers promote counterfeit goods whilst reassuring potentially susceptible followers that buying counterfeits is both rational and acceptable. Previous research commissioned by the IPO, which focused on female consumers aged 16 to 60 in the UK, found that endorsements by social media influencers prompted 10% of that group to purchase counterfeit goods.

The present study replicates that research but focuses on males. It finds that 24% of UK males aged 16 to 60 purchase counterfeits endorsed by social media influencers (the most popular categories being sports and sportwear, clothing and accessories and jewellery and watches). 18% are knowing responders who are aware the products are counterfeit, and 6% are deceived responders who are unaware the products are counterfeit. The study also finds that 17% of knowing buyers of counterfeits buy products that risk their health and safety.

As with the previous research, four factors increase the likelihood of counterfeit purchasing: trusted others including complicit influencers, rationalisations (e.g. belief in a victimless crime), risk blindness (i.e. risks to businesses, jobs, health and safety) and risk appetite. The analysis further reveals that widespread confusion over the term “counterfeit” has a significant role in purchasing decisions and fuelling demand, feeding into the rationalisation to normalise the buying habits.

A number of policy recommendations arise from the research such as aiming strategies to reduce the demand for counterfeit products at younger, habitual consumers of counterfeits (a key result shows that participants from the younger age groups are more susceptible than those from the older groups to the influence of others, particularly in relation to social media). Further, education approaches should focus on the influence of trusted others, risk blindness, risk appetite and rationalisations, which should include industry and regulators developing and communicating a definition of “counterfeit”, clearly associating it with immoral wrong and investing its meaning with real risks and harms. Regulators and brand owners should engage with social media platforms, online marketplaces, and especially the influencer marketing industry to tackle deviant influencers and disrupt the purchasing pathways. This would also identify any gaps in the regulatory framework that may need to be addressed to make the companies accountable for facilitating influencers who advertise counterfeits. Further research is also recommended.

For more information, click here.