The Counterfeit is the accident of the brand

January 2005

The mindless copy, or fake, or counterfeit object, is a real economic scourge. That goes without saying. But isn’t it also, in a way, the reverse side of the “brand” or what we might call the “counterbrandı”
The French philosopher and science historian, Paul Virilio, theorized on what he calls the “accident.” Each new technology, he says, creates at the same time a new “accident” - its own particular accident. For example, by inventing the automobile, man also invented the automobile accident. By inventing the airplane, he also invented the air disaster. By inventing the Internet, there came the invention of online viruses, or worse, online paedophilia. The examples abound, from trivial to tragic.
When the brand was invented, so was, to a certain degree, counterfeiting. The forgery is only interesting if what it copies is immediately recognizable. Why copy an object that does not have an exclusive identityı No one would be interested in it. People copy only those things that are worth copying. And, an object is worth it if it is a well-known label, a recognizable brand name.

The Counterfeit is the accident of the brand

Brands spend treasures of energy patiently constructing their brand image, and treasure chests trying to impose this image on a global scale. Yet, the more powerful the brand becomes, the more it attracts counterfeiters. To be copied is, in a way, the proof of a brand’s success.
What is the most copied brand in the worldı Not by chance, it is the largest luxury brand on the planet, Louis Vuitton. What is the most copied watch brand in the worldı The King Rolex, of course, and so on, and so on.
In fact, if we made a list of the most copied watches, we would probably obtain more reliable and revealing statistics than those in the brands’ annual reports. Behind this, of course, is human frailty. Between us, let’s admit it, what consumer would want to transform himself into a white knight for the Brandı If the right occasion presents itself, there is a little larceny in all of us. The proof of the pudding can be seen in the recent misadventure of the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini. On an official visit to Beijing, he spent some time visiting Hong Qiao, also known as the “pearl market,” a famous or infamous “department store” for counterfeit products. The minister could not help himself. Looking at all the Cartiers and Rolexes selling for 20 euros, he gave in to temptation and bought one, a superb fake. As his luck would have it, there were a number of reporters present and they did not miss this photo opportunity.
As usual, when prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was questioned about this during a press conference, standing next to the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, he simply kicked it into touch by declaring, “It seems logical to me that the minister responsible for speaking about the fight against counterfeiting would have to have tangible proof of its existence…” What a lame excuse! The reality is quite different. The minister Frattini had simply given in to his desire to get a ‘brand name’ watch for 20 euros.
But the real stakes in this game are much more important. By copying, one learns. The Chinese began by copying, but they also are learning, and learning well. This year, three Chinese manufacturers introduced tourbillons, authentic tourbillons. Of course, they are a far cry from the tourbillons coming from Swiss haute horlogerie, but still…
Look at what’s happening in Italy in the domain of the well-made, beautiful Italian shoe. This year, imports of real luxury shoes, Made in China, were greater than the home-grown variety. Behind the counterfeiter hides a future competitor. The counterfeit object can very well be considered to be the accident of the brand, the accident of creativity, and often, it is a fatal accident.

Image: The counterfeit is at the origins of the Swiss watchmaking in the mid-18th century. A proof that a counterfeiter can become a master watchmaker.
La Montre des origines au XIXe siècle by Catherine Cardinal