Bootleg Swag can be Good Branding

There are some really bad examples of your product out there that could destroy your brand.

Usually they’re in foreign countries, and usually they are trying to avoid getting sued for making stuff that looks exactly like yours. They tend to come off as the equivalent of movie-only brands. You know, those props that get made with names like Tilde or Bludveiser to avoid having to pay royalties? Well, if you don’t, look at some examples of real-life knock-off swag to see what I mean:

The problem with this stuff is that it can become a subversive means of discouraging sales of your swag.

Disney’s Imitators Ruined My Innocence

My parents used to make me wear ‘Michael Mouse’ sweatpants from Hong Kong growing up. I’ve never bought ANY Disney, legitimate or otherwise, as a result of the ridicule I received. Disney didn’t just lose sales since my parents obviously couldn’t tell the difference between real or fake, they lost an opportunity to advertise to real potential customers.

Those were lame-looking pants because they weren’t at all the real deal. If they had been, the kids in my class might of gotten their parents to buy Disney swag. Instead, they probably threatened to run away from home if they were ever caught wearing anything remotely like what the fat kid they chased around in class was wearing.

While I’m Not Crying

I believe bootlegs of a certain standard should be kept around. So long as the contraband isn’t obviously fake or too much like the real deal they should be allowed to perpetuate in developing countries. Most people living in those countries aren’t likely to purchase the real stuff anyway. Those who can pride themselves on buying the real stuff and being able to tell the difference. Some can afford it but will insist on buying fakes. Forget them, the day you take away all knockoffs is the day they switch to no-name brands. Why not allow the market to flood itself with shoddy-looking knockoffs with your logo on them and get some free advertising? It’ll push their prices down and make yours look more prestigious by comparison.

I realize it’s unauthorized and I understand that some ‘luxury’ products derive value from being rare or from pure functionality. If you don’t have much brand image and your product is function-specific, then you’ve got a branding job ahead of you, invest the crack-down money on that instead. If you’re a rare luxury product, I’d say the real stuff will look even better by comparison, and there’ll be no shortage of people who’d still buy it.

Look, nearly all viral marketing is unauthorized, all you have to do is capitalize on the opportunity.

Bottom line? Stop fighting free advertising.

If you really only want the ‘right’ people buying your product, then you can consider this:

An Example of the Internet Helping

Say you sell a product that isn’t based on some specific function. Say it’s beyond the price range of everybody who seems to be wearing them, because they’re actually identical knockoffs. The good news is it’s free advertising for anybody who can afford them by everybody who can’t. The bad news is if it gets into your target markets. Here’s what you might do:

Incorporate something like a scan-able sticker into the product design. Maybe redesign tags so they shouldn’t be removed. Then do nothing. At least, not until those you don’t really want representing your brand with copies have already purchased your product. Then, rather than try to force producers of fakes into creating fake logos, run a campaign educating people on how to spot fakes, emphasize how much of the core benefit of your product is lost (better fit, molds to body, whatever). Throw in an online component allowing people to post and ridicule egregious examples of fraudulent merchandise. Your pseudo-competitors can’t advertise, but since you aren’t suing them for using your name, they’ll likely keep producing cheap versions of your stuff. The difference is that people will be less likely to buy them once they realize they’re being tracked by those who buy the real goods.

Of course, this could potentially backfire, creating two camps of people who love your product, and people trying to make a statement by buying fakes. But that’s fine, at the end of the day the net gain in interaction with your brand and sales will almost certainly be greater than if you covertly tried to crush your competitors.

And that’s how you might make bootleg swag into good branding.


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