There is widespread counterfeiting within the cosmetics industry, as many are all too aware.
As almost all cosmetic products are applied to the body or skin, the health implications when untested and often harmful fakes infiltrate the market are serious and long lasting. Such dangerous, physical effects on the consumer are well documented.
Many of the larger cosmetic brands employ offline investigations and use physical raids to prevent the sale of fakes in street markets or shopping mall thoroughfares. Equally, it has become clear that the online sale of fake cosmetics is an ever-growing issue as more and more of us shop online. All in all, fakes in the cosmetics industry are an issue discoursed by many; forming unlikely unions between beauty bloggers and hardened police investigators, Instagram influencers and corporate brand protection teams. They all ‘call out the fakes’, warn consumers of their dangers, and lament this ‘ugly side of the beauty industry’.
What we wish to address here is how smaller beauty brands can combat the copycats; deter counterfeiters from ripping off their products and prevent sales online. This in part, involves online brand protection services, such as ours at SnapDragon. But, it also involves other steps, some of which can be done without parting with any cash!. If you own or work for a beauty brand, read on to make sure you are taking the necessary steps. That way, you can ensure you protect your consumers, your online revenue streams, and your brand reputation from fakes.
Make your brand secure by protecting your intellectual property.
Intellectual Property (IP) is defined by the World Intellectual Property Office (www.wipo.int) as “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.”
So, firstly, ask yourself this question: Is your brand and products protected by trademarks?
The answer should be yes.
Registering your trademarks, preferably wordmarks (as opposed to just a logo), is one of the cheapest ways to protect against fakers being able to copy your brand unimpeded. The few hundred dollars/pounds/euros can save you much, much more in the future. Whilst a trademark does nothing to physically stop someone copying your product, it allows you to enforce against them if and when they do. Make sure that when you register your trademark you do so in the appropriate classes. Class 3 is normally appropriate for most cosmetics and class 21 for cosmetic utensils. It is wise to utilise the support of a professional [such as a Trademark Attorney or IP Lawyer] to register your trademarks to ensure you do it right and end up getting the greatest return from your investment.
Additionally, do you understand your Copyright?
Copyright is, worldwide, an unregistered intellectual property right to your original content. It gives you (or the owner of the material) automatic sole right to your images, words, videos etc. You can, and should, leverage it when fakers use your images or property to profit for themselves. This is an extremely common issue. Counterfeiters will often try to use your professional imagery to make their product appear real and/or high quality. It can be tackled fairly easily – you just need to be aware of how to report copyright infringement to online platforms.
Secondly, educate yourself AND your customers. Show the fakers you are not going to let them go unchecked.
You need to understand the threat of fakes. Counterfeits are sold in many ways online – often they are found on E-Commerce platforms, like Amazon and eBay, as well as on Chinese sites like AliExpress and Alibaba. They tend to be offered at cheap prices, using stolen images to sell the fake product. Often, particularly in the beauty industry, fakes are sold via social media posts and adverts, targeting the extremely active beauty consumer base on Instagram. These ads will link to clone websites imitating your own but offering discount prices. Once you know where to look, you are ready to inform your customer of what to avoid.
It can be tempting to try and hide the fact that your brand is the victim of copycats. Alleviating the reputational damage of fakes is key but keeping your customers in the dark is an ineffective long-term solution. Instead, consider informing your customers directly of where they can buy real products and where to avoid buying products from. Established beauty brands have made good use of their websites to do this, detailing the risks of buying fakes and providing a place where consumers can report any potentially dodgy listings online.
Telling the story of your beauty brand can also be important. Let your customers know how much craft, tenacity and innovation has gone into producing the final products. Online consumers click a button, part with their cash, and expect a product delivered. They do not get to sample the product and they cannot hold it before buying. As a result, it is vital you tell them why your product is worth the higher price and why the knock-off is not a ‘bargain’. When it comes to cosmetics, this is easy, fakes are not safety tested and there are countless examples of the products being harmful to skin or causing severe medical issues.
Finally, make clear to ‘fakers’, on your website and everywhere else you can, that you will not let them get away with it. Dedicate content on your website to making clear you will pursue action against counterfeiters and that your intellectual property cannot be stolen without consequences. Copycats target all successful brands, but it is often the unprepared ones where they begin to run rampant. Telling and showing counterfeiters that you will not sit down and allow them to profit from your hard work can deter them from persisting.
Third and finally, fight back. Monitor, detect and enforce against IP thieves online (and offline where appropriate)
This is where SnapDragon can help most. We know from our own origins (our CEO’s brand was counterfeited) that legal action can often be prohibitively pricey for SMEs. However, having an effective online brand protection strategy can be affordable. Software ensures that monitoring and detecting counterfeits can be done at a low cost. Image and Word Term Searches can be carried out at the push of a couple of buttons. Infringements and threats are then identified in days, if not hours, and can be tackled appropriately
Once you have found the fakes online, they can be removed by reporting them for intellectual property infringement – that is use of your trademarks, copyright and designs – as we have discussed earlier.
The SnapDragon team does 1000s of takedowns each week and we are able to remove listings in as little as 4 minutes on some of the most popular shopping sites.
It is often said that online action is futile unless it is supported with offline (on the ground) enforcement. This is built on the logical assumption that, without physical confiscations of counterfeit product, the fakes will continue to exist and to be traded. This can be true for the large, international brands where both are necessary and a combined, strategic online and offline brand protection strategy is key. However, for the smaller business where resources are often tighter, a tenacious approach to the identification and removal of online fakes, removes their visibility online and thus prevents their purchase. This in turn does, (we know), lead to the factories producing the fakes simply giving up the brand in question, and going off to target someone else less tenacious.
Online strategies can also be vital in collecting intelligence to take further, legal action offline. As you monitor and enforce against fake e-commerce listings, or dodgy social media ads selling counterfeits, you gather the evidence needed for legal action, if this is a route you want to take.
SnapDragon can gather actionable data on offenders, including their physical addresses and company records, all of which are publicly available through their own listings. While we do not undertake covert investigations, we can recommend trusted sources who do. Where necessary we can capture the time stamped HTML of fake listings before removing them so you can use this data to take further action where apt.
Online brand protection is affordable and efficient and can be the difference between having an out-of-control counterfeiting issue and one that is manageable and, in the long-term, goes away.
In summary, to be well on your way to securing your brand against online fakes you should:
- Register the trademarks of your brand and product names in the appropriate classes and territories
- Understand your IP rights, including copyright, so that you can leverage them if you are copied
- Educate yourself on where the fakes are often sold and how they can be identified
- Educate your consumers on how and why they should avoid buying a fake as well as why your product is worth the price
- Make clear to copycats that you won’t stand idly by if they try to rip your brand off
- Proactively monitor for fakes using software such as SnapDragon’s
- Enforce against fakes and IP infringements by reporting listings to the platforms they are on
- Gather intelligence and evidence so that you can take further action if you need to