In today’s digital world it is critical for legitimate businesses to have an online presence with an effective online marketing strategy; key to any such strategy is social media. Currents estimates are that there are now 2.13 billion social media users (six years ago there were less than half of this number). The likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have changed the way we communicate with one another and how businesses communicate with us. In 2014, nine out of ten US companies used social media for marketing.

Where legitimate business goes, infringers eventually follow. Illegal operators are increasingly using the same tools to promote their illegal businesses. In 2013/2014, the sale of counterfeit goods via social media rose 15% while the sale of counterfeit goods via online auction sites rose by just 2%. Apps such as Instagram have “Shop Now” buttons and targeted advertising, making even this picture-sharing app a channel for outreach by counterfeiters and a means of broadening their customer base.

Counterfeiters are businesses themselves and smartly manoeuvre their social media strategies to avoid detection. In the past eight months we have seen counterfeiters’ behaviour on social media shift from the very obvious, for example using the brand names in their user names to attract views, to now having the entire operation on social media from initial contact to payment or using clusters of social media accounts to bypass the difficulties with visibility of a domain or marketplace listing.

Social media is used by counterfeiters to avoid traditional online enforcement. In today’s online landscape, it is essential to capture the full counterfeit operation including the social media presence. INCOPRO’s clustering technology enables this.

A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE – FOOTBALL

Football is big business, especially right now with the UEFA EURO 2016 championship underway. National team sponsor deals are sizeable: in 2013, Nike signed a 5-year deal to become the official kit supplier for the England Team, a deal which is reported to be worth €30m per year. This is matched with similar sized deals across other European national teams. The Nike and France deal is estimated to be the most valuable, worth €42.6m and the German and Adidas deal estimated to be €26m. ,

The sale of counterfeit replica football shirts seriously undermines these partnership deals and channels of revenue for the national team bodies as well as their official shirt suppliers. Purely financial damage is not the only concern. More worryingly, fake replica shirts potentially contain dangerous materials such as formaldehyde and pesticides and are often made in sweatshops in developing countries.

Using our in-house technology, Talisman and Identify, our multi-lingual expert analysts have looked at the behaviour and tools used by counterfeiters to promote the sale of fake football shirts. With a plethora of social media platforms with massive memberships and the divide between platforms for sale and promotions blurring, it is essential to draw out the connections across platforms to identify the key counterfeit operators.

Simply serving cease and desist notices and taking control of domains is an ineffective strategy on its own. Counterfeiters have a plethora of registered domains and as one domain goes down illegal operators simply use their social media platforms to redirect traffic to a new domain. We observed domains being created days before the site is promoted on social media accounts.

INCOPRO have uncovered large-scale “clusters” of connected operators selling counterfeit shirts with cross-linkages between domains and associated social media accounts. We saw that in many instances, due to brand protection efforts currently in place by kit suppliers, a number of sites had already been seized. However, our evidence revealed that these websites were part of a much larger operation and since their operations are dynamic they used related social media accounts to promote loyalty and bounce their traffic on to a new domain which is still active.

For example, in one ‘cluster’ our intelligence uncovered 80 connecting parts with clear linkage to one company operating by selling fake football shirts:

  • 47 domains (at present 28 are active)
  • 17 Social Media Accounts :
    • 4 x Facebook
    • 3 x Skype
    • 3 x Whatsapp
    • 3 x Twitter
    • 1 x Pinterest
    • 1 x Google+
    • 1 x YouTube
    • 1 x Linked in
  • 1 Marketplace Store
  • 14 email addresses

Simply taking out the domains is not sufficient. To effectively stop these operations you have to take down the whole network including the social media accounts. A strategy which we have seen deliver results. Over the past 3 months, on behalf of one client, INCOPRO has removed over 1 million Instagram posts. By monitoring this platform, we have noted that when users re-appear they are staying away from our client’s brands and have moved to other brands.

Football – whether it is the national teams, the national league clubs or the sponsors, needs to take this seriously as the actions of counterfeiters will undermine their revenues and also raises issues of corporate social responsibility. Sports marketing firm, Repucom, recently reported that the amount of money being invested into shirt sponsorship of Europe’s top six football leagues has grown by 13% on last year and the industry will be worth over €830 million this season. Approximately, 13 million shirts were sold by the 98 clubs of the top five European football leagues in the 2013/14 season.

INCOPRO’s flagship product – TALISMAN globally protects copyrights, design rights and trademarks using its proprietary clustering technology that provides intelligent cross-platform insights about infringements, and ranks and prioritizes them for a “one-click” action for the IP rights holder.

To find out more how INCOPRO can help your brand protect itself in the ever challenging online environment please contact Simon Baggs at simon.baggs@incopro.co.uk.