German fashion designer Philipp Plein is experimenting with an unorthodox approach to stopping the sale of counterfeits.
The "Fake Clown" campaign on Instagram Stories warns "Everyone who buys, produces or sells fake will be targeted." It then ridicules individual consumers who post photos of themselves in counterfeit versions of Plein products.
Instagram Stories posts from @phillippplein used insults and ridicule to shame consumers Plein accuses of wearing counterfeit products.
The tactic earned a skeptical 3 Nov write-up from bloggers at TheFashionLaw, who noted that at least some of the consumers Plein called out may have believed their garments were authentic.
"With that in mind, the brash tactics being employed by Plein ... set him and his brand up for an ugly PR nightmare in addition to the very real risk of alienating his consumer base."
It's a valid point. Much of the surge in online counterfeiting over the last decade is being driven by counterfeiters who woo brand fans with Google keywords and social media hashtags that suggest an affiliation with the brand or its authorized retailers.
These fake sites can be so convincing that consumers who buy from them can have no idea the product they purchased was a fake.
If that seems hard to believe, consider this: Among the millions of consumers who use Certilogo to authenticate products from Armani, Versace, Diesel, Stone Island and other leading brands, an average of 1 in 10 discover the product is a fake. Of those, an astonishing 68% report being shocked by the result.
It's easy to imagine at least some of the individuals targeted by Plein — smiling proudly, tagging the brand in their posts — were in the same situation. (We reached out to them and the Plein campaign on this point and will post any updates here.)
If so, the Phillipp Plein website is offering an opportunity to trade up to the real thing. Consumers who bought a fake product are invited to mail it (at their own cost) to Plein headquarters in Lugano, Switzerland in return for a 20% discount on an authentic purchase at a brand-owned site before 31 December 2018.
That won't help consumers walking around in counterfeits they earnestly believe are real. Unless, that is, they happen to post their find on Instagram and stumble into a public smack-down down from Plein himself.