Keith Wilcox

Why Do Consumers Buy Counterfeit Luxury Brands?

Coauthor(s): Hyeong Kim, Sankar Sen.


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Despite the efforts of most luxury brand marketers, the International Chamber of Commerce estimates that this industry is losing as much as $12 billion every year to counterfeiting. This suggests that at least in luxury markets, curbing the insatiable global appetite for counterfeits is essential to winning the war on counterfeiting. Yet a clear and actionable understanding of the motivations underlying consumers' purchase of counterfeit luxury brands remains elusive.

Given that the market for counterfeit brands relies on consumers' desire for real luxury brands, marketers need to understand why people purchase luxury brands in the first place to gauge the motives underlying counterfeit brand purchases. Research suggests that quality considerations aside, consumers typically consume such brands in the service of numerous important social goals. The current research is guided by the premise that these social motivations drive consumers' propensity to consume counterfeit brands. Specifically, on the basis of the functional theories of attitudes, the authors propose that both consumers' desire for counterfeit brands and the extent to which the availability of such counterfeits alters their preference for the real brands are determined by the social functions underlying their attitude towards luxury brands.

Three studies demonstrate that consumers are more likely to buy a counterfeit brand when their luxury brand attitudes serve a social-adjustive function (i.e., help them gain approval in social settings) rather than a value-expressive one (i.e., help them communicate their central values and self-identities). Notably, consumers' moral beliefs about counterfeit consumption affect their likelihood of consuming a counterfeit brand only when their luxury brand attitudes serve a value-expressive, as opposed to a social-adjustive, function. In addition, exposure to a counterfeit has a stronger negative effect on consumers' preference for the real brand when their luxury brand attitudes are social adjustive rather than value expressive.

Importantly, the authors show that the primary social function served by consumers' luxury brand attitudes is not merely a consumer characteristic but can also be determined by elements of the marketing mix (e.g., product characteristics and advertisements). For example, the authors demonstrate that the extent to which a luxury brand fulfills a consumer's social goals (i.e., value-expressive and social-adjustive) is likely to depend on brand conspicuousness. Specifically, when the brand is inconspicuous, consumers' attitudes toward it are going to be less able to serve a social function. As a result, the social attitude function-based differences in counterfeit consumption were minimal.

In addition, the authors demonstrate that exposing consumers of a luxury brand to advertising messages that differentially prime the social goals associated with value-expressive versus social-adjustive attitudes influences their preference for counterfeits. Together, these findings point to the ability of marketers to influence people's reactions to counterfeit brands through specific marketing actions.

Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Marketing Research, published by the American Marketing Association, Keith Wilcox, Hyeong Kim, and Sankar Sen, volume 46, no. 2 (April 2009): 247-259.

Source: Journal of Marketing Research
Exact Citation:
Wilcox, Keith, Hyeong Kim, and Sankar Sen. "Why Do Consumers Buy Counterfeit Luxury Brands?" Journal of Marketing Research 46, no. 2 (April 2009): 247-259.
Volume: 46
Number: 2
Pages: 247-259
Date: 4 2009