‘Malicious envy’ on social media could deter fakes

Posting an image of your brand new luxury purchase on social media can invite all sorts of envious comments – benign and malicious. But could that comment field be harnessed to deter people from buying counterfeits?

That’s the intriguing notion put forward by Chinese researchers in a new paper published in the Journal of Business Research, which suggests that malicious envy increases anxiety among brand users and reduces their likelihood of buying a knock-off.

Benign envy might be something like a comment saying “I envy you! Hope I can afford a Rolex someday,” note the researchers, while malicious envy could be a statement like “You are lucky to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”

The latter induces a “perception of psychosocial risk” among would-be influencers, as they worry about the consequences of being found out for not having the genuine item and the damage to their image, according to the study. Conversely, benign envy can actually encourage them to buy more fakes.

It’s not widely appreciated that buying counterfeit luxury brands isn’t limited to those who can afford the real thing – in fact reports suggest that more affluent people are just as likely to buy fakes, potentially more so if they are heavy engagers in social media and want to portray a high-end lifestyle.

The researchers from Hainan University and the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong investigated the hypothesis that malicious envy can reduce counterfeit purchases via a series of surveys in which they presented scenarios of either malicious or benign envious comments, or a neutral comment. Four separate surveys were carried out involving hundreds of consumers of luxury goods in the US and China.

Brand users sensing that they are being maliciously envied had a lower intention to buy counterfeit products, and that was more prominent when the post under consideration featured the name of the brand or a logo, so was more conspicuous.

“We found that the psychological mechanism under this effect was anxiety, which rendered brand users more sensitive to the psychosocial risks associated with purchasing a counterfeit,” write the authors.

The finding suggests that envious comments triggered by social media posts “have the potential to be used as an anti-counterfeit vehicle,” they continue.

Brand managers can increase the likelihood of envious comments by following their clients’ social media pages and sharing their posts on their brands’ official social media pages, and encouraging users to highlight brand names and display brand logos.

They could also mount anti-counterfeit campaigns that highlight the potential stress and embarrassment caused by buying or using fakes, rather than using morality-based appeals.

Image by Geralt via Pixabay

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