Countering the Counterfeiters: How Brands Can Protect Themselves
“There probably aren’t 10 companies in the world that could make this impact-extruded shaped can,” says CCL vice president of sales and marketing Ed Martin.
Soft drink companies have used specialized cans with color-shifting inks or debossed logos, but only on a limited basis for special visual or tactile effect. Clearly, this expensive technique is only suitable for a company with large production runs that will allow it to amortize the cost of the packaging setup by a high-end can manufacturer.
Taggants are usually proprietary to the company making them, as are the detection devices, most of which are hand-held field devices that yield a “yes/no” indication of authenticity.
Taggants offer another benefit: they typically reside in a different location on each individual package or product. Thus, attempts by counterfeiters looking to defeat them by removing the part of the product or package where they have been inserted are often fruitless.
Sun Chemical is a leader in this new technology, often referred to as “track and trace”. Its SunGuard product invisibly marks packaging using chemical taggants that reside in the ink, to be read only by a proprietary wand or camera. The system is costly, but with SunGuard, the packager has the advantage of using existing graphic and design elements on a package, simply printing them with the tagged inks.
Because the taggants are in the ink, printing can also be done by conventional means, including inkjet printing, in brand owner facilities, right on the filling lines. The idea is to enhance the control brands maintain and to make the invisible ink more integral to the packaging, adding another layer of security.
And while laser coders were originally expensive, they have since become more accessible.
They are also ideal for countering product diversion—a practice where authentic products are sold through unauthorized channels—a tactic almost as damaging to a brand as counterfeiting.
Holograms are also frequently found on sports paraphernalia, clothing and other high-end items that are likely targets for forgers. According to Eric Bartholomay of Toray USA, off-the-shelf holograms were often the choice for brand owners in the past. Though, he says, Toray, which makes the films used in hologram applications, has seen that change in recent years.
As counterfeiters became more adept at faking holograms, he says, sporting good manufacturers have switched to custom holograms designed to complement their products as well as protect them.
Brands like Nike have also learned to change the design periodically to make the system even more difficult to replicate. Nike’s MoJo golf balls, for instance, have gone through at least three iterations of their custom hologram in about 18 months. The message to “brand pirates” is that they will have to make a significant investment in custom holography to try and counterfeit MoJo golf balls.
One drawback sometimes cited for holography as a primary anti-counterfeiting measure is that, although consumers can see that a hologram is present, they have no way of knowing that it is authentic. The value of a hologram as a deterrent, though, is that it is expensive for the counterfeiter to create. And, depending on the price point of the product, that may be enough; though most experts advise layering holograms with covert anti-counterfeiting efforts.
A new class of flexo-printed inks, however, by such companies as the Canada-based XINK Laboratories, has integrated taggants made by Creo to the ink on RFID antennaes. Such tags can easily be verified as authentic using a simple pen-sized reader. According to the company, the technology elevates XINK-printed RFID tags into the same league of security as currency.
Another new technology comes from Aveso Inc., a spin-off of Dow Chemical. The company has developed labels that carry covert electronic billboards that can be activated by a radio frequency source or through touch, making the hidden billboard apparent so consumers and brand owners can verify the authenticity of the package.
To best keep counterfeiters at bay, experts advise using an array of methods.
“You have to use multiple protective techniques, and you have to keep changing them,” says Stan Hart of S. G. Hart & Associates LLC, a leading brand protection consulting firm.
You should also change some of the seemingly innocent practices in your workflow, he says. When you plan a new package, for example, take care not to send multiple samples of your inks, board, graphics, etc., to multiple vendors. Keep those elements close to your vest.
And don’t forget about your customers. They are your product’s lifeblood, so you must consider how to assure them that the package in their hands is genuine.
The most stringent anti-counterfeiting efforts, with multiple covert layers of protection, are mostly directed toward the counterfeiter. What measures do you take to help consumer decide whether a package is authentic?
In the end, those “old-fashioned” devices—logos, graphics, value statements, slogans—all of the symbols that your brand has accrued over the years—still have enormous value to you and to your customers.
It’s what defines the brand that you are taking such extensive, expensive measures to protect. Because it is ultimately the assurance you offer consumers. BP
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