Fake products and the counterfeit self

December 8, 2022
Brand strategy

Does it really hurt to buy counterfeit? Does a fake Louis Vuitton handbag or a fake Rolex watch have much bearing on anything? If spending tens of thousands of hard earned dollars on these items is out of the question for you, then what harm would buying counterfeit do to either yourself or these brands? A new study seems to point the bone back at the wearer: wearing counterfeit has the power to make you a more unethical and negative person.

A study rigorously exploring this issue has just been published by the Association for Psychological Science. In a series of four experiments, psychologists tested changes in how people acted, as well as how they perceived others whilst wearing both authentic and counterfeit sunglasses.

The first group of experiments was set up to test whether wearing counterfeits influenced people’s ethical behavior. The tests demonstrated an overwhelmingly negative effect on people’s honesty – an increased likelihood to cheat in tests. They found those wearing fake sunglasses cheated more in various tasks than those wearing authentic glasses. This was across the board and applied both to people who tended to wear counterfeits generally, and those to whom they were randomly assigned. Note that no authentic brand products were hurt in the making of this test. Like a placebo, those given the ‘counterfeit’ objects were actually given authentic products but told they were fake.

The Fake Self
And it seems to work like this: when wearing counterfeit clothing or accessories, people give off mixed signals. There are ‘desired signals’ of good taste, wealth, and success. This is what people are consciously aware of giving off. These conflict with the ‘actual signals’ of being (to some degree) fake. Both sets of signals are sent to our own sense of identity, just as much as they are sent to other people. It seems that having counterfeits sends a signal to oneself of being inauthentic, and these feelings cause people to behave dishonestly.

Negative Perceptions of Others
The next group of tests aimed to see how wearing counterfeits influenced the way people perceive others. When asked how many people they knew were ‘somewhat dishonest’, people wearing counterfeits tended to respond with higher numbers than those with authentic products. If people who wear counterfeits take a negative view of themselves as fake (the inauthentic self), then it seems to rub off on them viewing others as also being fakes.

While people buy counterfeit products to improve their image, ironically they are damaged by compromising their own authenticity. While most people have some measure of understanding of this, they remain willing to make a trade off between image and authenticity. What many however do not realise is that the negatives involved with counterfeits run far deeper than most people have previously imagined.

At first this seems like good news for marketing departments yet to find the an effective way to counter the appeal of fakes. However whether this message will reach a public who are still very hungry for counterfeit goods is another matter entirely.

Read the full results of the study here: https://www.issnaf.org/web/images/stories/Articles/Gino_Norton_Ariely_PsychS_2010.pdf



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