How brands need to remain socially responsible after the Covid-19 pandemic

In many areas of the world the mass vaccination programme is gathering pace and the impact on the return to a near-normal life is becoming closer day by day. Whilst the positive news of the roll-out of mass vaccinating as well as falling infections rates made headline news, the increase in scams, brand infringements and cyber-attacks hasn’t been far from the surface.

As the lockdown restrictions are lifted slowly for many of us, those who have been hell-bent on exploiting the situation have doubled down on their efforts, shifting tactics from the fear of infection and how to prevent it, to take advantage of the remote lifestyles that we have had to experience. The restrictions placed on society in general has led to a boom in the digital economy as consumers have been driven online.

With so much fear, uncertainty and doubt being spread about the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers have taken to the Internet to look for testing kits, medicines and of course, vaccines. In the UK today, where the vaccination programme is about to start focusing on the most populous age groups, there is a pent-up demand for the vaccine and that has led to a rise in fake vaccination scams.

Whilst most consumers know that a vaccine is available and being rolled out, some that aren’t in the current, or near future target groups. However, for those who are desperate for a return to a near-normal life or in the hope that concepts like vaccination passports will fast-track access to travel or even sporting and hospitality events, there is still a danger that they will fall foul to the numerous attempts by fraudsters, impersonating health authorities or even the vaccine manufacturers themselves. Scammers and counterfeiters give consumers hope, albeit false, that they have the answers and many have been taken in by this.

Some brand holders, such as Philip Morris International have been waging a war against the detection of illicit and counterfeit goods, albeit in their own industry, for many years. The bootlegging and counterfeiting of tobacco has been a major issue for PMI for over 150 years and they have developed a wealth of experience not only in the detection of products that harm their brand and their customers, but also in working with law enforcement agencies. During the last six months they have been lending their experience, knowledge and know how to other organisations who have been more directly impacted.

Last September in an interview with World Trademark Review, Philip Morris International’s (PMI) Director of Illicit Trade Prevention, Kristin Reif, spoke at length about the changing threat landscape they have seen and how PMI and others have strengthened their Corporate Social Responsibility outreach to protect customers.

“What we saw at the outset of the pandemic was that, true to form, criminals were quickly taking advantage and flooding the market with counterfeit, fraudulent and inferior goods – everything from face masks to gloves to therapeutics. We have a core competency in fighting illicit trade, so it seemed natural for us to get involved. When we looked at our skill sets and competencies, it was clear that we have subject matter expertise in brand integrity so why wouldn’t we try to assist in this area?” said Reif in his interview with WTR.

PMI have been working with organisations such as major pharmaceutical companies, using their resources to develop strategies that both inform customers of the dangers of buying counterfeit and the impact it has on wider society. They view their work as part of their corporate social responsibility, something that extends past just monitoring for counterfeit tobacco.

PMI are not alone in their work. Organisations of all sizes continue to invest in anti-counterfeit programmes, protecting their intellectual property, reputation and ultimately their clients from the harm caused by fraud and scams. However, some firms either choose to ignore the threats associated with their brand or are completely unaware of the dangers. The Covid-19 pandemic is a compelling event for us all – a chance to reset and refocus our social focus.

However, we all have a part to play in the solution. Consumer education cannot be underestimated in a time of fake news, fake advertising and fake products being pushed in front of our collective eyes. Brand holders need to ensure they are doing their part too, monitoring for infringements that could damage consumer confidence as well as harming their reputation. Social responsibility means all of us being part of a solution rather than adding to the problems that the pandemic has caused.

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