Aug 30, 2007

Buy Prada. Fight Terrorism.

Today’s New York Times op-ed page features this piece by Newsweek correspondent Dana Thomas on the evils of counterfeit goods. Thomas claims that terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah often use counterfeit goods as a way to finance their operations and that such goods are often made by Chinese factories that employ child slave labor.

Now Thomas is the author of a book called Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, and it got me to thinking about what a tough marketing challenge that would be, to convince all those people who spend money on fake versions of $800 Louis Vuitton pocketbooks that they were indeed helping terrorists and to save up their shekels so they could buy the real thing.

Counterfeiting is a huge issue for luxury brands these days and the ability to produce an almost perfect replica for one-tenth the cost has led consumers to question just what they’re paying for. But it’s been tough enough selling the idea that illegal drug use helps fund terrorism. Not sure how you’d get people to see the connection between Calvin Kline (sic) jeans and al Qaeda or a Dickensian factory in China.

If you could though, it would be quite a breakthrough. Because counterfeiting is definitely hurting the high end luxury goods business and because few of those brands have anything approaching a positive image. It’s an interesting juxtaposition too: Save a Chinese child from a life of slavery. Buy a real Gucci bag.

Interesting to see how—or more accurately, if—this one plays out.


Lunar BBDO said...

If Prada released a T-shirt that said 'this T-shirt is fucking Al-Qaeda', I'd buy it and wear it with pride.

Come on, Miuccia Prada, you've got a degree in political science! Show us what you're made of.

Anonymous said...

Counterfeiting is bad. Copyright infringement is bad, too. No arguments there.

Then again, maybe if so many high-end items weren't mass-produced just like the knock-offs are, the resulting look, feel and quality of the genuine articles might actually be worth a higher price. Then fewer people would settle for what would truly and easily be seen as a cheap imitation.

True, improving quality would eat into the bottom line a bit. But maybe the days of being both "high-end" and "mass-produced" are over? Is that really such a bad thing for the majority of fashionistas and designers out there?

Regardless, using the plight of exploited workers or a possible link to terrorism to guilt people into not buying fake goods is pretty lame. Sounds like the fashion industry is less concerned about doing good than about keeping the gravy train chugging along at full speed.

Of course, we're hearing this kind of whining more and more from industry groups around the world as new technology forces all of us to change the way we do business, and I'm sure we'll hear it again. But you'd think the fashion industry, of all people, would be hip to the notion that just because something is fashionable that's no guarantee it will look good on you.

raafi said...

A recent Newsweek article noted that terrorists have called this sort of thing "economic jihad." It seems curious to me that so many of our calls to a cause are consumer-goods based in this country. (Wanna screw the world over? Get Americans to buy something. Wanna fix it? Have them buy something else.). Best of luck to the luxury brands here. The kind of devil-may-care class aspiration that many of them market to would seem to be at odds with doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Raafi makes an excellent point.

I also didn't realize "economic jihad" was so widespread it had a name. Guess I was a bit hasty calling BS on the the link to coutnerfeit bags.

I'm afraid that watching for four years as many in our government use the generic notion of "fighting terrorism" as blanket justification for all manner of greed, stupidity and waste has made me overly skeptical when folks use the T word.

Alan Wolk said...

Interesting conversation guys.

@fatc & Raafi: My contact in the fashion industry tells me this: most high end goods are actually better made- handbags in particular are literally made by hand in Europe and will hold up for 25 years. Now she also said that a lot of people no longer care about this because (a) "fast" fashion means plenty of women are happy to pay $200 for a fake bag they'll throw out in a year vs. $2000 for one they'll have for 25 years. (b) too many high end brands also produce a lower priced line, made in China or India, and people don't realize there's a difference- it's all Armani or Ralph Lauren-- and the brands have been devalued and people don't realize that the high end line is much, much better quality.

I agree that we've heard the anti-terror argument for just about everything-- drugs, in particular-- and I wondered if the fashion industry would be able to make the message stick.

Finally, counterfeiting isn't just limited to fashion. There was an article I read not too long ago abut a guy who'd invented a plastic cage to wash women's bras in- it prevents them from getting tangled on other things- and he spent a good part of his time getting Chinese counterfeiters to stop or stores to stop carrying the counterfeit goods. This guy was a small-time entrepreneur, not a multinational corporation.

Anonymous said...

Prada, Diesel, American Apparel and Benetton could pull off the shirt Al Q shirt thing, but other brands would have to be careful to go the anti-counterfeit route via a war on terror association.

But I like the idea of anti-counterfeit positioning. (The conterfeit Mini Copper campaign was a great example of this.)