Fake trading on an iconic Swiss emblem

July 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

When even a broken watch is right twice a day, at Fakes are Never in Fashion, we’ll take those two authentic minutes over 1,440 fake ticks each and every.

The Swiss emblem of a white cross over a red background has been a symbol of neutrality longer than it’s been associated with timepieces and utility knives, but when counterfeiters threaten the sanctity of the craftsmanship it represents, all things neutral be damned: nobody puts the Swiss in a corner.

At first glance, the concept of a ‘country brand’ can be slightly strange, but in the modern marketplace it’s nearly impossible to purchase an item without learning its origin through some external mark. You can understand the rationale behind branding a country: the little ‘made in’ mark is as simple as it is effective when it comes to advertising. Producers, having seen evidence of a certain country’s production capabilities, will be inclined to bring their businesses to the region and, in doing so, generate tax dollars.

Because we have associations with most images, which can provoke or be calming, encourage or dissuade, they are key components in any marketing campaign. In the case of the Swiss emblem, which is historically reassuring for those who love cocoa products and luxury goods, the counterfeiters prey on this. The irony of the whole affair is that their efforts to trade on the Swiss name/logo actually stand to harm its reputation and degrade the brand.

An Emma Thomasson article recently run in Reuters elaborates on the Swiss predicament. According to the piece, exports of Swiss watches have dropped 25 percent with “2.5 million fewer watches sold” while $1 billion worth of fake Swiss timepieces are sold every year. These painful numbers considered, the Swiss have decided to make a down economy move to protect their brand, insulating it by buffering the rules which govern the use of the “Swiss-made” label and the Swiss cross logo. To carry the country’s brand, a current proposal would require industrial goods to have at least 60 percent of production costs be Swiss. This means that 60 percent of all money spent to make any industrial item must be spent in Switzerland. Watchmakers have moved from 50 percent up to 80. It would seem that the watch is being wound tighter and that’s not a bad thing.

A quote in the Thomasson article from Sven Reinecke, a marketing professor at St. Gallen University, sums the situation up nicely: “It is difficult to defend the brand all over the world. You do not have a brand manager for Swissness so everybody can use it. But for a premium brand you need to show it is quality so it is necessary to define it.”

It remains to be seen whether the plan will reinforce the perceived quality of the brand and protect it from those who falsely claim the Swiss emblem as their own. There are certain risks you run. As measures are taken to reinforce a brand, making it more exclusive, if they are successful it becomes even more desirable to the sham artists. This might suggest it’s a zero sum game: as the brand is reinforced, its worth increased, the counterfeiters will try harder to exploit it. By doing so, they erode the newly earned worth and we’re back at square one. it would seem. But this is not the case. The more a brand does to protect itself, no matter the efforts of the counterfeiters, consumers and producers are better for it. So we think Swiss policy is right on the mark here. They’re not only fighting counterfeiters, they’re making their own brand more authentic. Unquestionable positive developments for everyone but the barons of all things ersatz.

And while it will be a difficult transition, these new proposals are the first part of what will be a larger, fruitful conversation. Improved authenticity and actively battling the counterfeiters? Well, that’s a clear win-win on our watch.

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