Africa is home to four of the world’s ten fastest growing economies. According to Digital in 2018, Africa has been recognised as having the fastest growth rate in internet penetration and usage with the number of internet users across the continent growing exponentially by more than 20% compared to 2017. The manufacture and sale of mobile smartphones has had a massive impact on the accessibility of the internet and particularly, the accessibility of social media platforms in the last year.
Social media use in South Africa has over the last few years grown at an alarming rate and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are considered the most popular methods that people use to keep up with what is going on in and around the world. Africa News has reported that 1 million people have started using social media for the first time every day over the past year.
With South Africa’s population now at an estimated 60 million, the increase of internet usage on mobile smartphones has resulted in more than two-thirds of the population having access to social media. Social media can be regarded as a vital tool for marketing of goods and services as more people are signing up on these platforms. Brand owners have caught a whiff of this and refuse to be left out in the cold; they have taken it upon themselves to utilise these platforms to engage consumers through content and social media marketing.
Brand owners are taking advantage of these platforms to build their brand’s reputation; however, many fail to identify the use of social media as an area of concern for the sale of counterfeit goods online. This new method of doing business has received buy-in from counterfeiters. With much more anonymity and far less red tape, counterfeiters are exploiting social media platforms as a tool for reaching unsuspecting consumers.
Counterfeiters create what we call “social media boutique” pages on which they advertise their “AAA grade” replicas for sale. In an effort to confuse and deceive consumers, photographs from various websites are used and the fake goods are priced at a similar price to the genuine goods.
The direct loss of sales as a result of consumers substituting counterfeit goods over genuine goods has, and will continue to have, a huge detrimental financial effect on brand owners. Moreover, the indirect reputational damage that will occur when consumers experience issues with inferior quality counterfeit goods can bring prominent brands to their knees – and essentially the brand owners’ ignorance will be to blame.
In today’s day and age, non-traditional methods of the enforcement of intellectual property rights are a key element in brand protection. As counterfeiters are becoming craftier, it is with no doubt that brand owners should consider non-traditional brand protection strategies to fight back.
Brand owners should adopt a proactive and not a reactive approach by deploying resources targeted solely at monitoring social media and sales platforms. This can be achieved by working together with intellectual property attorneys and industry stakeholders to ensure that counterfeiters are stopped in their tracks and the counterfeit goods do not get filtered into the market.
It is essential for brands owners to have strategies in place that will assist in the constant war against the sale of counterfeit goods and to bolster unauthorised users from riding on the coattails of the brand’s reputation through, what tends to mascot itself as “innocent” posts and tweets.
Written by Sibongile Dee, KISCH IP