March 2006 - Per Inquiry

Knock It Off

A call came in recently from a colleague who had developed his first DRTV-driven product success. Much to his chagrin, he alleged that a company operating outside the U.S. that happens to be a member of ERA had ripped off his item-including his marketing assets. “Can’t ERA do something about it?” he queried.

Sadly, this was not the first time I had heard of such a scam. It comes on the heels of an ugly phenomenon in our industry. A marketer willingly licenses his or her product to a particular region, along with his or her original advertising. The licensee then replicates the product in some far off factory, where government regulation is in as scarce supply as its scruples. The crooks use the original infomercial and other marketing tools to sell the copycats that garner a higher margin. Then, to maintain an air of legitimacy, they submit a purchase order to the rights holder of the product for a fraction of the actual sales. In the case of my friend’s plight, the thieves abandoned any efforts at authenticity and, taking advantage of the ineffectiveness of international law, simply reverse engineered the product, stole its likeness and threw it up on the Internet. It would appear honor among thieves comes in the form of a blade in the back; make that a set that includes free shipping and a drop pay if you simply turn a blind eye.

If any product owner would come forth with a court order against such an offending party, I am confident that ERA’s leadership would take the counterfeiters to task. However, in a society where any soulless paint-by-numbers con artist can take their ill-gotten gains and fling them at the organization in the form of nuisance litigation, ERA must choose its battles wisely. The whole matter can easily become a game of “He said, he said” that leaves the association with no authority to demand proof other than what each party is willing to volunteer, feeling like Alice having plummeted down the rabbit hole. If only the bottle marked “Drink me” were truth serum.

Last year in Monaco, Italy’s Luciano Daffarra, one of the foremost experts on international counterfeiting, gave a speech on this so-hot-anyone-could-get-burned topic. He explained that much of the global counterfeiting of products today is linked to organized crime and is even helping to finance terrorism. There were about as many people in the room as there would be if Donald Rumsfeld were doing stand-up comedy accompanied by the accordion on the Champs-Élysées.

At the same time, word has it that some frustrated marketers who have been pirated have elected to settle with their very abusers. And I wonder: Is that where some would-be attendees were during this compelling seminar-in the bar cutting “something is better than nothing” deals with shady characters? Which leads to another question: Do we want an industry that is legitimate or one akin to the cantina in Star Wars, where the line between friend and foe is obscured to the point of paranoia? “Caveat emptor” has been turned inside out. Make mine a double with the real stuff.

Rick Petry is chief marketing officer of Downstream. He can be reached at (503) 226-1944, or via e-mail at r[email protected]. Or, visit


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