In the middle of the holidays, against the backdrop of a changing economy, you might have found something lurking among the ads on shopping sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace: products that look like real, but who are not.
Counterfeit lists have become more problematic for consumers and businesses. But for many organizations, communicating around this has been a challenge, in large part because so many consumers are willing to buy fakes. But the Toy Association has found an increasingly effective messaging strategy to highlight the risks of counterfeit toys: They are often unsafe, use problematic materials like lead paint, and can pose a major risk to consumers.
Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Toy Association, said counterfeiting has grown big enough to become a major focus of the business group these days.
âIt’s gone from something that was in the mix for our external affairs group to something that is clear in our strategic plan,â he said. âSo it’s a policy or an association priority, if you will. “
This increased focus has led to a tactical shift around the way fakes are framed. Here are some lessons the group learned along the way:
1. Develop a comprehensive strategy with room for all stakeholders.
Pasierb says the group has built a strategy around three groups of stakeholders: consumers, industry players and lawmakers.
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 advocacy and communications teams.
âIn addition to being a strategic priority throughout the year, it is the active collaboration between our external affairs and communications teams as well as our members on the [intellectual property] committees that make it work, âPasierb added.
2. Focus on the effect on consumers, not the cost to businesses.
Pasierb noted that while the increase in counterfeiting is hurting many types of businesses financially, including toy makers, portraying the problem as a financial problem just doesn’t work.
âWe don’t take care of the money that companies lose because nobody cares,â he said. âConsumers don’t care if a big business is losing money; what interests them is their product.
Instead, the association looked at product safety risks. This is a strategy particularly suited to toys, as Pasierb pointed out when comparing toys with counterfeit handbags bought online. âIt’s not that great, you’re disappointed, but you have an item on Google that looks like a Gucci handbag that costs $ 20,â he said.
On the other hand, counterfeit toys can be dangerous for children.
âIt could have lead paint, it could have sharp edges,â he said. âIt might contain small parts that a child could swallow. It is a health and safety risk. It’s not just cheap; it’s dangerous.”
As a result, the Toy Association has led with safety in its consumer awareness, notably through its Toy Safety Awareness Month, which launched its first iteration in November and is expected to repeat next year.
3. Find strong external 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. She has collaborated with the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the National Retail Federation, as well as with Michigan State University, which helps produce research for the Toy Association through its Center for the fight against counterfeiting and product protection.
âIt’s everyone’s problem, it’s just different depending on the industry,â 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 disagreed with the Toy Association over the report. But the nature of the counterfeit toys, combined with a growing line of dialogue between the two groups, has led the Toy Association to stand with PIRG at its annual convention. Problem in the land of toys press conference this year.
âSo what were traditionally enemies found this ground where our combined message was more powerful than either one of us alone or one of us fighting each other,â Pasierb said.
4. Lean into happy accidents.
At times, the group’s focus on consumers saw messages land in areas the association had not anticipated. Such a place is Playsafe.org, the association’s consumer website that highlights the safety concerns of counterfeit toys.
Although it is aimed at consumers, it has proven to be a valuable resource for the media. This is an unexpected benefit as the media has sometimes lumped together non-toy items of known risk, such as hoverboards and fidget spinners, with toys, creating a challenge for the association.
âSo it’s kind of a surprise that some of the things we’ve done for consumers really benefited the media and then helped shape the story,â he said.
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