An unhelpful advert from Diesel and Publicis that perpetuates the myths of counterfeiting

In New York lies an infamous street called Canal Street, home to a range of stores all selling counterfeit goods. The idea was that Diesel themselves would open a store called Deisel that appears to be a knock-off store, but is actually an official store in disguise.

Much of the marketing press have been enthralled by this stunt, with Adweek, the usually sensible marketeers trade bible describing it as a ‘brilliant little stunt’. However, it feels like this is at best a bit of a mis-hit and at worse, an incredibly ill-thought and inappropriate stunt that perpetuates some of the myths around counterfeiting.

Let me explain.

The link between counterfeit merchandise and drug trafficking, people smuggling, and even terrorism has been fairly well established at this point. As Alastair Gray, Brand Protection Manager at Tommy Hilfiger pointed out in his TED Talk:

“Fake trainers on the streets of Paris, fake cigarettes in West Africa, and pirate music CDs in the USA have all gone on to fund trips to training camps, bought weapons and ammunition, or the ingredients for explosives. In June 2014, the French security services stopped monitoring the communications of Said and Cherif Kouachi, the two brothers who had been on a terror watch list for three years. But that summer, they were only picking up that Cherif was buying fake trainers from China, so it signaled a shift away from extremism into what was considered a low-level petty crime. The threat had gone away. Seven months later, the two brothers walked into the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and killed 12 people, wounded 11 more, with guns from the proceeds of those fakes.

— Alastair Gray, Brand Protection Manager, Tommy Hilfiger

So this isn’t a problem that’s happening in another country that we can ignore, it's happening in our own backyard. The Madrid Train Bombing in 2004 was in part funded by pirated CD’s being sold in the US and clear documented references have been found in Al Quaeda documentation about selling fakes being a lucrative way of funding overseas terror cells.

So it's unclear why anyone thought this would be a good idea. Especially staging it in New York, a city which has seen more terror attacks than most over the years, with two happening in the last 6 months alone.

Framing counterfeiting as just a case of people trying to save a few bucks and get one over on big companies is pretty cynical. It's not a victimless crime as all the evidence demonstrates.

Can you see GM wanting to open a fake store in Detroit offering fake brake pads, or Pfizer selling fake EpiPens as a marketing stunt? It would be viewed as pretty reckless.

It is incredibly unhelpful when individuals, brands, and independent groups spend millions of dollars every year fighting counterfeiting, for a single brand to go rogue with an advert that perpetuates that myth that the buying and selling of fakes is not that big of a deal.

World Trademark Review pointed out that; 

“The irony, of course, is that Diesel is one of the most stringent brands when it comes to tackling fake goods. In 2015, the company launched numerous legal actions against counterfeiters in China, while also filing at the US Federal Court against 83 sites that were illegally selling fake products on sites with “Diesel” in their domain names.

— Tim Lince, World Trademark Review

It would have been far more noble for Diesel to have tried to counter the myths around counterfeiting by explaining the risks of buying fakes. One can only hope lessons are learned from this advert and it acts as a timely reminder that anyone can play a part by reporting fake websites and adverts to platform owners so that they can take action.

Edd Uzzell