When I was a teenager I loved to go down to Tijuana and by knockoff watches, a Bolex or Rolek for $5 (asking price may have been $50). Harmless fun, I know I’m not buying the real thing, but I still looked for quality: a sweeping rather than ticking hand from my fake Rolex, for instance.
I’ve never been keen on U.S. officials stopping importation of products that violate brand marks, either. That seems to me companies leaning on taxpayers to enforce their IP, a form of corporate socialism.
At the same time products which purport to be one thing, and are actually something else, and which are dangerous are another matter entirely.
Hotels in China, even high end hotels, have been known to offer guests counterfeits of the premium toiletries that are normally their brand’s standard. And fake shampoos and liquid soaps in China can have dangerous chemicals.
So where to come down on fake wine?
China’s Fujian province, where a law-enforcement task force raided warehouses in the Longhai district of Zhangzhou, uncovering a massive counterfeiting operation. More than 40,000 bottles of falsely labeled wine as well as packaging and labeling equipment were discovered; authorities estimated the fake wine’s “street value” to be more than $150 million.
…[A]mong the faked products seized were counterfeit bottles of Bordeaux’s Château Lafite Rothschild and Australia’s Penfolds; both brands are enormously popular in China (and equally as popular among counterfeiters).
Chinese authorities report these bottles of Château LaFake were “extremely realistic in appearance, making it difficult for most consumers to distinguish.”
Look, fraud is wrong. I’ll assume here there was no safety issue with the contents, just selling people a product that’s not what they think they’re purchasing.
Interesting in U.S. law you cannot protect the recipe for wine. You can only have intellectual property in its packaging. If the wine tastes identical, then customers are really getting what they expected right? And it’s just the famous brand that isn’t making profit off of it.
But the brand serves a purpose, to communicate the quality you expect. And if the brand isn’t protected, it isn’t something that can be invested in, and you lose a signal of quality.
On the other hand, if you look at once high quality brands that have been acquired and watered down their products… think Tumi in luggage, Dom Perignon in champagne (not every vintage should be released, and once wouldn’t have been!)… then the brand is actually what’s lying, communicating to consumers a quality that turns out not to be delivered.
In wine especially many people rely on the brand as a short hand for quality, and even trust that what’s inside is quality whether they can taste it or not. That isn’t to say that a bottle of Penfolds Grange isn’t lovely. It absolutely is! But not everyone is familiar with the taste or how it differs from (say) Penfolds Bin 389 (“Poor Man’s Grange” or “Baby Grange”).
What if the wine inside is the same or better, and the ‘fake’ label allows the consumer to try it with confidence and be pleased? Indeed, allows them to tell a story about themselves – they’re the kind of person who has tasted Romanée Conti (!) – at a discount?
We should be honest all the time, but should the government enforce honesty in brand marketing, even when it’s misleading about quality? I’m actually not sure. And should I feel badly that someone was ‘duped’ into paying $450 for a bottle of wine that might have sold for $100 without the misleading label? What about my $5 Rolek?