During the holidays, against the backdrop of a changing economy, you may have found something lurking among the listings on shopping sites such as eBay and Amazon Marketplace: goods that look like the real thing, but who are not.
Counterfeit listings have become more problematic for consumers and businesses. But for many organizations, messaging about it has been a challenge, largely because so many consumers are willing to buy counterfeits. But the Toy Association has found an increasingly effective messaging strategy to highlight the risks of counterfeit toys: they are often dangerous, use problematic materials such as lead paint, and can pose a major risk to consumers. .
Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Toy Association, said counterfeiting has become big enough to be a major focus of the trade group these days.
“It went from something that was part of the mix of our external affairs group to something that is clear in our strategic plan,” he said. “So it’s a policy or a priority of the association, if you will.”
This increased focus has led to a tactical shift around how counterfeits are framed. Here are some lessons the group learned along the way:
1. Develop an overall strategy with room for all stakeholders.
Pasierb says the group has built a strategy around three groups of stakeholders: consumers, industry players and regulators.
From there, the organization developed tactics to manage each group, including white papers, webinars, policy statements, industry partnerships, and consumer research. What makes this approach successful, Pasierb said, is close internal collaboration between departments, especially the advocacy and communications teams.
“In addition to being a strategic priority throughout the year, it is the active collaboration between our external affairs and communications teams with our members on the [intellectual property] committees that make it work,” added Pasierb.
2. Focus on the effect on consumers, not the cost to businesses.
Pasierb noted that while the rise of counterfeiting is financially hurting many types of businesses, including toy manufacturers, portraying the issue as a financial issue simply doesn’t work.
“We don’t care about the money companies are losing, because no one cares,” he said. “Consumers don’t care if a big company is losing money; what interests them is their product.
Instead, the association focused on product safety risks. This is a strategy particularly suited to toys, as Pasierb pointed out when comparing toys with counterfeit handbags purchased online. “It’s not that great, you’re disappointed, but you have a googled thing that looks like a $20 Gucci handbag,” he said.
On the other hand, counterfeit toys can be dangerous for children.
“It could have lead paint, it could have sharp edges,” he said. “There could be small parts that a child could swallow. This is a health and safety risk. It’s not just cheap; it’s dangerous.”
As a result, the Toy Association has taken the safety lead in raising consumer awareness, including through its Toy Safety Awareness Month, which launched its first iteration in November and is set to repeat next year. .
3. Find solid outside partners, even if they seem like strange bedfellows.
As counterfeiting affects many types of manufacturers, Pasierb said his group often collaborates with other associations dealing with the same issue. He works with the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the National Retail Federation, as well as Michigan State University, which helps produce research for The Toy Association through its Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection.
“It’s everybody’s problem, it just has a different color, depending on the industry,” he said.
The security angle has also helped create alliances in places where they may not have appeared in the past. The Public Interest Research Group, which has published an annual list of the most dangerous toys for more than 35 years, has traditionally found itself at odds with the Toy Association over the report. But the nature of counterfeit toys, combined with a growing line of dialogue between the two groups, led The Toy Association to stand alongside PIRG at its annual Trouble in Toyland press conference this year.
“So what were traditionally enemies found this ground where our combined message was more powerful than either of us alone or either of us fighting,” Pasierb said.
4. Lean into happy accidents.
At times, the group’s customer focus has seen messages land in areas the association hadn’t anticipated. One such place is Playsafe.org, the association’s consumer website that highlights safety issues with counterfeit toys.
Although aimed at consumers, it has proven to be a valuable resource for the media. This is an unexpected benefit as the media has sometimes grouped non-toy items of known risk, such as hoverboards and fidget spinners, with toys, creating a challenge for the association.
“So it’s kind of a surprise that some of the things we’ve done for consumers have really benefited the media and then helped shape the story,” he said.
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