Brand abuse is big business. It’s estimated that brands lost over $350 billion last year to online attacks—and the risks are constantly evolving. While any brand can be vulnerable to attack, the more recognizable and powerful the brand, the more attractive a target it is.
Following last month’s summit in New York on the future of intellectual property and digital brand protection strategies, brand channel discussed brand protection with Simon Whitehouse, Senior Director at MarkMonitor, a leader in brand security.
brandchannel: Do you think enough brands know if or how they’re being targeted or abused?
Simon Whitehouse: There is a growing awareness from brands across industries on the importance of online brand protection—particularly in today’s omnichannel environment. Organizations recognize that having a comprehensive digital brand protection strategy ensures they are able to protect both themselves (for example, their reputation and bottom line) and their customers, who are likely to be affected by the availability of counterfeit goods online.
bc: How should brands go about implementing a strong digital brand-protection strategy?
Whitehouse: Online brand impersonators and counterfeiters create brand confusion by interfering with a brand’s digital promotions, intercepting web traffic and threatening e-commerce revenues. One of the first things to do is to be proactive and keep fraudsters from coming between a brand and its customers. By addressing their deceptive tactics, marketers can reclaim web traffic and revenues, and improve ROI on digital marketing initiatives.
It’s also crucial that organizations don’t overlook the threats of brand impersonation, brand fraud and counterfeit goods in the rapidly evolving landscape of digital channels. These channels, including social media and mobile apps, are becoming an increasingly important part of people’s personal and business lives. With marketing ROI at risk, marketing executives must make social and mobile essential components of their brand protection strategy.
bc: Are particular industries or brands more vulnerable than others?
Whitehouse: While counterfeiting, brand abuse and domain squatting can affect brands in most industries, we’re finding an increased prevalence in the fashion and luxury goods space. Luxury brands have historically been more hesitant in embracing e-commerce as part of their sales strategies, but now as more and more of these brands develop their web presence, the prevalence of counterfeiting luxury goods online is growing. In fact, according to the 2015 MarkMonitor Online Barometer, almost 25 percent of consumers bought a product online that turned out to be fake, with fashion, footwear, electronics and digital content being the most prevalent product categories.
bc: How are protection and enforcement strategies adapting to new threats?
Whitehouse: We often see a single counterfeiter operating 40 percent to 60 percent of all rogue sites targeting a particular brand and selling counterfeit versions of that brand’s wares. Shutting down these networks is an effective way to disrupt, and even potentially cripple, the counterfeiter’s business. But fighting these networks manually is time-consuming and ineffective. There’s a new strategy that uses technology to focus on the scale of the problem, which is quite effective in the fashion and luxury brand industry.
By identifying clusters of sites that display the same characteristics, brands can apply one injunction to shut down multiple rogue sites as well as future rogue sites that can be tied back to the original network. This approach maximizes the impact and the ROI of litigation.
This new technology can identify a larger volume of sites, zeroing in on clusters by analyzing data such as nonvisible content, external site associations and visible content (e.g., prices and graphics).
Gathering rogue sites’ “fingerprints” cost-effectively speeds the investigative phase of litigation and lays the groundwork to identify additional sites that pop up after the first round of domain names are seized. As a result, brand owners can determine the true scope of infringement and maximize the impact of their litigation investments.
In terms of emerging threats, brands are developing and bolstering their brand protection efforts around social media, recognizing that these channels can be used to mislead consumers through fraud or counterfeiting—either through fake pages or unauthorized use of copyrighted materials and trademarks.
To combat instances of brand misuse or misappropriation, solid strategies are needed. Typically these include proactively registering a brand across social media platforms, adopting tools that can automatically monitor social media for impersonation and the misuse of brands and trademarks, and acting on cases of misuse or abuse once they have been identified.
bc: So what’s the story with generic top-level domains (gTLDs)?
Whitehouse: Since the launch of the gTLDs three years ago, over 800 new generic name spaces have been made available in which to register domains, enabling organizations to have sites like yourbrand.clothing, yourbrand.london and yourbrand.cloud. The objective is to give people and organizations the potential to build targeted sites with direct navigation to the sites.
2015 closed with a total of 11.2 million new gTLD registrations with .xyz, .top, .wang, .win and .club being the top five in terms of total registrations.
The sheer number of new gTLDs being launched means it no longer makes business sense to register every key brand term in every new extension. This may force a change in approach to online brand protection strategies, from one based on traditional defensive domain registrations, to one that monitors this larger internet namespace for brand abuse. Ideally this should involve brand protection, legal and risk management personnel. This collaboration will assist brands in developing policies to detect, police and mitigate domains that infringe on company trademarks and steal their website traffic.