Fashion Fakes Go Social, Big Brands Struggle to Keep Pace

In the battle against counterfeiters online, fashion brands have too often been slow to adapt or innovate, preferring to put the bulk of their resources into lawsuits and legal teams instead. First, merchants selling fake shoes and bags took over search results, and now they’re coming for social media as well.

The problem? Those Gucci shoes aren't Gucci, Christian Iouboutin is a letter away from a lawsuit, and those bags are definitely fake

There have been some brands putting real effort into both. Take Louis Vuitton: shuttering eLuxury opened the door for several counterfeit sites who then had less competition from the legitimate brand for searches. On the paid search side, Louis Vuitton tried to sue Google for allowing advertisers to bid on their name, which is trademarked in many of the countries where they operate. The final ruling was that while individual advertisers could be penalized for misleading users, Google was not responsible for the content or practices of advertisers bidding on brand names.

We pointed out that while the ruling may have been a blow on the paid search side, larger problems were present in the unpaid search results because the counterfeit sites were better optimized than Louis Vuitton’s official site.

If for no other reason than performing well with visitors from search engines, and pushing replica sites further down, dropping eLuxury was a mistake. But the reason eLuxury closed was to put more effort into Nowness, a site curated by Jefferson Hack (publisher of fashion magazine Dazed & Confused). Nowness has an item a day format that doesn’t focus on any single brand, but a person or cultural event to offer a glimpse at the personality behind brands rather than pure product.

On Facebook, more than a million people have become fans of the Louis Vuitton Art of Travel page which features special notes to Facebook fans, behind the scenes videos and interviews with soccer legends Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane (who also appear in the current advertising campaign). So while there are improvements that could be made, the Louis Vuitton online strategy is obviously not centered on suing counterfeit sites out of existence – though we’re sure it’s still part of the plan.

A Facebook ad for fake Christian Louboutin shoes

Other brands haven’t gotten the memo, and are still taking a defensive approach to participation online when they should be on the offense. One example? The company behind those infamous red soles, Christian Louboutin. They launched an entire site dedicated to showcasing crackdowns on Chinese factories manufacturing replica shoes. Unfortunately, the official site misses the mark for search, and even efforts like the recently launched US e-commerce site {Christian Louboutin US online store} are hobbled by huge, slow loading Flash-intros and animations. It’s obviously intended to be an experience site, but the experience isn’t good. There is a good effort on Facebook, where 250,000 fans are update about company announcements.

These efforts, however, are not enough to stop small and nimble counterfeit competitors, who have replica Christian Louboutin shoes, fake Louis Vuitton and Chanel bags and more appearing in Facebook ads, and organically in the news feeds of people targeted by interest. We’ve blacked out names to protect the innocent and the guilty, but in the photo of the fake Louis Vuitton, you can see the sheer number of users being targeted through photo tags. As those photos appear in the newsfeeds of friends, the counterfeit campaign becomes viral.

Big luxury may have the legal power, but it seems back alley bootleggers have the creativity.

Click to view more photos of counterfeit social media campaigns.

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