Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Emperor's New Handbag?

Luxury goods manufacturers have been adding overt and covert security measures to their goods to allow consumers, police, retailers, and customs officials to spot fakes. But, for fear of alerting the counterfeiters, they're not telling anyone what the security measures are. A report in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required to view it) entitled "Holograms Tell Fake from Fendi", revealed the lengths and costs some luxury brand owners are going to, to protect their goods, now that :
"Today, many fake handbags are made of good leather, packaged elaborately and sold (usually unwittingly) in high-end accessories stores."
"copies of [LV's] handbags are sometimes so good that consumers realize they're fake only when they take them into the company's boutiques for repairs."

But, it's well known that holograms are relatively easy to spoof, and how is a customer (or over-stretched policeman or customs official, for that matter) supposed to know what it is supposed to look like? The WSJ article points out:
"Holograms are better than nothing, but they are already being copied," says Claudio di Sabato, head of security at Italian fashion house Prada Group NV. Indeed, police in Naples said they recently uncovered a warehouse with photocopiers used to create fake holograms -- with the basic design but without the deep colors and multidimensional images -- for counterfeit handbags. And a Fendi saleswoman recently said she had already seen a bogus Fendi handbag complete with a hologram."
If that wasn't reason enough to claim the "emperor has no clothes", consumers say they won't rely on a hologram as a proof of authenticity.

Here's a fake and real hologram from a life-saving anti-malarial drug. Sure side-by-side, one looks suspect - but on it's own, who could tell?
And here's a real and fake hologram on a SONY memory stick. Again, could YOU a consumer tell which one is real?

The physical appearance of fakes has gotten so good, that visual-only
techniques such as color-shifting inks and holograms have lost their discriminating power. What is needed is a more interactive way of authenticating a product, that the customer can rely on. Holograms may be "better than nothing", but that's not saying much.