Counterfeit products are everywhere. From the tacky, replica football jerseys you find on holiday to pristine copies of handbags, shoes and watches that are near-impossible to tell apart from the real thing.
In fact, research by the OECD suggests the counterfeit product industry is worth a staggering USD 464 billion (GBP 356 billion) each year. Furthermore, nearly 2 in 10 people in the UK admit to buying fakes due to the economic saving, as the most fashionable items typically come with hefty price tags.
But what counterfeit versions of brands and products are people most interested in buying?
To find out, we’ve gathered the data and crunched the numbers in a bid to name the most popular counterfeit brand in the world.
We decided to focus on three product categories:
These are the three of the most counterfeited goods globally, by their share of customs seizures and total value.
We then looked at monthly search volume data from Google for search terms like “fake Nike”, “replica Gucci”, and “buy fake Rolex watches” to calculate the number of people looking for counterfeits of the top brands in each category. We could then find the most popular by the total number of searches by ranking each brand by the total number of searches!
Kanye West’s famed collaboration with Adidas, YEEZY, and Nike’s iconic Air Jordan range (named after basketball legend Michael Jordan and first produced nearly 30 years ago) battle it out for the top spot.
YEEZY just about edges it with an astonishing 46,000 searches for counterfeit versions. Meanwhile, Jordans come in second on 40,000 searches a month.
These are two of the most popular brands on the planet. The clamour for Jordans began nearly 30 years ago when Michael Jordan was establishing himself as one of the greatest and most successful athletes of all time.
By contrast, Kanye West and Adidas first released the YEEZY line in 2015. In just seven years, they’ve become incredibly popular.
But neither are cheap. YEEZY shoes are produced in limited numbers, and they typically sell for hundreds of pounds – with people willing to camp outside stores the night before a release to get their hands (or should that be ‘feet’?) on a pair. The limited runs mean that resales are thriving, too, with specific pairs going for thousands on the second market.
Jordan’s aren’t quite as expensive, but they still usually sell for north of £100.
And it’s this mix of limited availability (especially for YEEZY’s) and high retail price that drives people towards fakes.
Searches for fake footwear brands are by far the most popular.
This is mainly due to the dominance of YEEZY and Jordan. Fake versions are searched for over 86,000 times a month globally, pushing the footwear category into 1st place.
When we look solely at footwear brands (no pun intended), we see a significant drop in interest for counterfeit versions after YEEZY and Jordans.
Interest in counterfeit versions of Nikes is still substantial. Beyond Jordan’s, Nike has many in-demand models, including Air Force 1’s, Air Max’s and Dunks. In fact, previous research has shown Nike is the most popular shoe brand in the world, so it’s no surprise to see this translate across to a high level of interest in counterfeits too.
Louis Vuitton takes the top spot in the designer category, with nearly 16,000 searches globally each month. Founded in 1854, the French fashion house has since become synonymous with luxury goods, in particular through its iconic range of bags.
Interestingly, demand for counterfeits in this category is much more evenly spread than in the footwear and watch product categories.
This makes sense. Firstly, many of these brands offer a wide range of products (including footwear and watches), opening them to a broader scope of counterfeiting.
Secondly, they’re some of the oldest, most recognisable names in the world. Owning items by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Balenciaga, and any designer label, has long since become a statement of wealth and social status simply through the name or logo printed on the item. Yet, with prohibitive price tags for the actual products, a counterfeit can serve the same purpose for the wearer at a more accessible cost.
Counterfeit Rolex watches are, by far, the most popular within this category. On average, over 23,000 people each month search for a fake Rolex.
The Swiss brand was founded in Britain in 1905 before moving operations to Geneva after the first World War. Rolex routinely tops the list amongst the watch industry for spending on advertising and marketing, which has helped to establish its watches in popular culture through celebrity ambassadors, film placements (James Bond, Apocalypse Now and Titanic, to name a few), and music (does anyone remember Wearing My Rolex by Wiley?).
Naturally, this has resulted in widespread demand for their timepieces. But, with price tags that only a minority can afford, there is now a vast underground economy for counterfeits.
No other watch brand comes close to the demand for a fake Rolex, which (weirdly) suggests their high-spending marketing strategy has worked well. Or, you could argue other watch brands are doing a better job of advertising only to audiences that can afford to buy the real thing, leading to lower interest in counterfeits.
If there’s one thing this research has shown, it’s that the general public routinely seeks out counterfeit versions of their favourite brands to save money.
It’s hard to blame the buyer. There’s a societal pressure to wear the latest and most fashionable items, but most people cannot afford real versions, especially with recent squeezes on living standards.
The blame, of course, lies with the producers, importers, and sellers of counterfeit products, who infringe the intellectual property rights of leading brands by leveraging their popularity for profit.
There are several ways this can impact a company:
Plus, consumers often don’t realise there are potentially harmful risks attached to buying counterfeits:
What can companies do to stop counterfeits?
Whilst we’ve only looked at the biggest fashion brands in the world in this research, counterfeits can affect a wide range of companies. So what can a company do to stop counterfeits?
As a firm specialising in intellectual property (IP) law, we’ve helped many businesses with this issue. We recommend taking the following steps:
So there you have it, a look into the murky world of counterfeit products and intellectual property. If you’d like to learn more or speak to the Briffa team about counterfeits, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or the wider team at either email@example.com or +44 020 7288 6003.
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