INTA talks to teens about counterfeits
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INTA talks to teens about counterfeits

Social media, online videos and visits to schools are among the tactics being used by an INTA anti-counterfeiting campaign which targets teens

INTA’s Unreal Campaign, which aims to persuade 14-18 years olds not to buy counterfeit goods, was launched at last year’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Over the last 12 months, INTA volunteers have visited hundreds of students in schools around the U.S. to deliver talks to young people. Teens can follow up on the information they learned in class by visiting unrealcampaign.com. The website features links to the campaign’s Facebook page and Twitter account, where users can share their thoughts. They can also watch videos of teens discussing their experiences with counterfeit products on the site, or on the campaign’s YouTube channel.

The campaign appeals to teens’ awareness and consciousness of brands. “Part of it is image,” says Candice Li, INTA External Relations Manager for anticounterfeiting. “You don’t want to be seen as someone who buys fake goods.”

It also discusses the impact on the economy through the use of statistics, and delivers warnings about the potential dangers counterfeit products pose to consumers. For example, some fake products such as toys can contain high levels of lead because of the paint that has been used on them. Consumers buying counterfeit goods online risk providing their personal information to criminal groups that might also be involved in other illegal activities, such as identity theft and credit card fraud.

Li says the campaign was launched in response to a desire by brand owners to raise public awareness about counterfeiting. Teens were chosen as the target demographic because they represent the next generation of consumers. “They have some purchasing power and they are very aware of brands,” says Li. “At that stage they have some understanding of the issues but they are still young enough to accept new ideas and education.”

A year on, the Unreal Campaign is the focus of an event at this year’s INTA Annual Meeting. The session, Unreal Campaign: Student Engagement Program, takes place on Tuesday afternoon. The organizers are expecting more than 100 teens from local Dallas high schools.

Guest speakers at the session will include brand owners and law enforcement officers. The program will also include an interactive demonstration using genuine and fake items donated by INTA members. Although the session is designed for high school students, a small section has been reserved for INTA observers. Anyone interested in attending should contact Sharon Aguayo at saguayo@inta.org.

Harnessing social media

Social media and videos were identified early on as essential to the campaign’s success. Its Twitter and Facebook pages were launched in April 2012 to coincide with World IP Day. The campaign posted its first YouTube video in May that year and created a Pinterest page in September. The website, featuring the campaign’s first video blog, was launched in November last year.

“We know that teens are online and that they are avid Internet consumers,” says Li. “So we knew that having a good social media presence and having digital media developed would be very important to the campaign.”

One of the campaign’s recent Facebook post links to an infographic showing which countries produce the most counterfeit goods seized by US Customs. Another offers teens tips on how to spot a counterfeit prom dress and the websites selling them.

The Pinterest page features photos of “Funny Fakes”, a series of counterfeit toys including the “PolyStation 3” videogame console, the appropriately named “My Little Phony” and a knockoff Barbie doll whose eyes appear to be sliding into her hairline.

The Twitter feed features links to updates on the campaign’s other media outlets, relevant stories from independent news outlets and invitations to teens to offer their opinions on topics such as what counterfeit products they have seen while out shopping.

One teenager recently liked the campaign’s Facebook page with the remark, “If it’s fake we don’t take!” Another commenter complimented the page but took issue with a site selling fake Ugg boots featured in Facebook’s sponsored links box.

Working with schools

Since its launch in April 2012, one of the campaign’s key strategies has been to communicate directly to teens about what a trademark is and how counterfeiting impacts businesses and the economy. One of the ways this has been implemented is by visiting teens in their schools.

In August 2012, the campaign formed a partnership with two non-profit organizations, Street Law and Constitutional Right Foundation (CRF). Street Law creates classroom and community programs to teach people about law, democracy, and human rights. CRF is a nonprofit, non-partisan, community-based organization dedicated to educating America’s young people about the importance of civic participation in a democratic society. The partnership has helped the Unreal Campaign develop a curriculum and train volunteers to effectively deliver its message to young people.

Heather McDonald, a partner of Baker Hostetler, has been involved in the program as an INTA volunteer from the initial planning stages, and will be delivering a presentation on Tuesday.

A typical classroom visit might include views from IP lawyers, brand owners and law enforcement representatives, as well as videos and a question-and-answer session. Lessons typically cover what a trademark is, the consequences of counterfeiting and how it impacts on the students’ lives. “US teens don’t respond well to people preaching or talking down to them so we present the information in an educational way,” says McDonald. “A lot of these teens are only aware of counterfeit luxury products or counterfeit sneakers or things like that. We tell them that there are other counterfeit goods such as cosmetics and drugs and electrical products.”

One of McDonald’s earliest experiences of talking to teens as part of the Unreal Campaign was during a pilot session at a school in Brooklyn. She delivered a two-day class to 11th and 12th graders, which she describes as having gone “unbelievably well.”

“I was very pleasantly surprised at how engaged they were and at how much base knowledge they already had about the issues,” she says. According to McDonald, the students seemed most convinced by arguments relating to workplace conditions in foreign factories making counterfeit goods and the corresponding decline in US jobs as a result of manufacturing abroad.

She says the Brooklyn teens were also particularly interested in the loss of tax revenue because of counterfeiting, particularly on a local scale. Her presentation cited statistics from a November 2004 report by the City of New York Office of the Comptroller, titled Bootleg Billions: The Impact of the Counterfeit Goods Trade on New York City.

The report estimates that $23 billion was spent on counterfeit products in New York City during 2003, depriving residents of $1 billion in tax income.

Evaluating the campaign’s success

The campaign’s success is difficult to evaluate at this early stage, but it has achieved its initial target of reaching about 200-300 students through its presentations in schools. “We are making a big impact on the kids,” says McDonald. “Some of them have followed up with questions and comments on Facebook and Twitter and we are getting a lot of feedback from the schools that the students’ involvement is really high.”

Adults have been keen to get involved in the program, with around 80 INTA volunteers from the US participating. The next volunteer training program will begin in fall this year. Anyone interested in volunteering or sponsoring the program can find more information at inta.org/advocacy/pages/unrealcampaign.

There are now plans to expand the campaign outside of the US, and Europe has been identified as the next region that will be targeted.

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Tips for avoiding counterfeit products

When trying to determine whether a product you are considering buying is authentic, the key factors to evaluate are the price and who is selling the product, says Candice Li. When it comes to price, “if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is,” says Li.

Also, consider the credibility of the place where you are buying the goods. “You’re clearly not going to be buying a real Gucci bag from a street vendor,” she says. When buying online, it gets a little trickier. Sellers of fake goods frequently advertise their products with photos of authentic goods taken from the manufacturer’s website, so what you see may not be what you get. Li suggests that the safest approach is to buy products directly from the manufacturer or an authorized retailer’s website.

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