by Michael McCune
News from China about Da Vinci’s fake Italian furniture and copycat Apple stores has engendered the usual bemusement around the world. But if marketers scratch the surface of these stories, they’ll uncover an evolution in consumer sentiment — one that’s driving changes in intellectual property rights enforcement.
China is indeed rife with unwanted brand “flattery.” Some shanzhai products do morph into something unique over time, but their foundations still lie in blatant cribbing of others’ innovations. And while US consumers are familiar with China’s fake iPhones and Fendi bags, fewer likely know that Chinese brands suffer the same fate. More important, Chinese consumers themselves are hurt when their children are at risk from toys with lead paint or their milk is tainted with melamine.
When national pride, health and their hard-earned yuan are on the line, Chinese consumers demand the genuine article. According to a China Market Research Group survey, the “overwhelming majority” of consumers said that their biggest fear in life was buying products that could harm their health (CNBC.com, 28 July 2011). The masses of angry consumers who’ve stormed the copycat stores and joined class-action lawsuits are an even better testament to how fed up they are over being duped.
Whereas marketers are right to be wary of fakes, they’d be wrong to assume the Chinese consumer isn’t on their side. Brands that take steps to enable product authentication at point of sale will tap into a reservoir of goodwill — the same reservoir the Chinese government seeks to tap through better regulation, which bodes well for a better brand-protected future everywhere.