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When things are not what they seem.

When globalisation started to ramp up three decades ago, we created a whole new brandscape. When we offshored capability, our relationship with products and services changed. Brands acted as though nothing much had changed. The Mac I am typing this on still carries Western branding messages, even though it is manufactured in the East, and the same is true for most of the consumer products we buy. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as brands are honest and we are aware of the choices we make.

Twenty-five years ago, my job involved designing and producing devices that prevented counterfeiting by making provenance and authenticity visible. One of my abiding memories was when we were prosecuting a counterfeiter in the luxury goods sector whose defence was that his product was perfect; it was the brand that was counterfeit. I remember thinking at the time he may have had a point.

Counterfeit Goods represent around 3.5% of global trade (nearly double that for the EU). If counterfeit were seen as a trading partner, it would be in the top five. The challenge is that except where it causes real problems, it tends to be invisible, as it happens outside balance sheets. Suffice it to say that the danger of what we buy not being what it says on the tin is significant. Globalisation has created the most sophisticated supply chains in history, and as we also see, the most fragile. Localised issues from a Covid upsurge to a boat badly parked in the Suez canal causes disruptions that will last for months as the whole infrastructure gets wrinkled.

A whole industry sits between what, where, and how something is made and how it is presented to us, and a tremendous amount of money and talent is spent creating virtual Potemkin Villages from which we buy our goods and services. Combined with the fragility of a supply chain that makes it easy to insert counterfeit alongside dubiously marketed, the responsiblity for what we buy moves to us.

If we want marketing is to become responsible and mindful, it needs us to question the provenance of what we buy and be conscious consumers. Relying on legislation is not enough. Provenance is an essential element of the challenges we face, from procurement of PPE and Pharmaceuticals to pots and pans and increasingly, food.

“Caveat emptor” has become an environmental, not just a commercial concern. Fixing the challenges we face needs small acts of conscious consuming from all of us.

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