Anthony Marks is MD of Fanattik a pop culture specialist, a gifts and collectibles licensee for 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, and Paramount Pictures. He talks us through why the days of the Comic Con counterfeiter may just be numbered
As a self-confessed geek I have no problem admitting that I have been visiting Comic Cons for more than 25 years, and many a time I remember queuing up for hours in the rain to get into an event and spend my money on product that mainstream retailers were ignoring.
Although visitor numbers have reduced from their heyday, a big London show can attract well over 100,000 visitors over a weekend and regional shows more than 30,000.
I still visit the shows, but this time with my commercial hat on to see product from all over Europe under one roof. The shows have never ceased to amaze me with regards to how much unlicensed poor quality product is freely available to buy, so I read with interest that a representative from Marvel was seen attending this month’s Liverpool Comic Con, it definitely had the exhibitors at the show in a tizz from the reports I received.
My company started off selling licensed limited edition art prints and many years ago we went through a phase of exhibiting at shows all over Europe, we found ourselves placed next to stands selling prints featuring images downloaded from the internet and run off on a home printer. We complained to show organisers and they just didn’t care, they had to sell the space and they didn’t care who they sold it to.
The most faked brands that we noticed always seemed to be Nintendo, Star Trek and Pokemon. I couldn’t understand why the brands weren’t sending representatives to these shows which were mostly in major cities, easily commutable from their or their agents offices.
A colleague used to take pictures of stands selling fake keyrings, pin badges, glassware etc but after being threatened by stall holders numerous times he decided it wasn’t worth doing anymore, especially as the show organisers and the brands we were sending the pictures to wouldn’t act on them anyway.
Licensees invest a lot of money in testing, especially on items such as jewellery as it comes into contact with the skin, the last thing the industry needs is a red top to report how a child’s neck turned green because they were wearing a necklace bought at a show. The press won’t care that the item was unlicensed they will just report the brand featured.
These stands are not always run by someone who just wants to make a little bit of extra money by selling product they produced at home, there is one large organised group which has multiple stands not just at the London shows but I have seen them at Frankfurt, Amsterdam as well as many of the regional UK shows, blatantly selling unlicensed product imported direct from China (I saw the packing boxes behind their stands). The show organisers know who they are but don’t want to get rid of them because of the number of stands they book all in one go.
A few years ago I offered my services to one event, I would travel down to their show at my own expense and walk the halls with one of their team to try and clean things up, they wouldn’t even have to buy me a sandwich for lunch, but they turned me down.
Things are changing though.
Newham Council – which covers Excel where a lot of the London events are held – sends a team to each event, they are very good at shutting down stands selling plush if they don’t have the CE mark on them, but when it comes to other product they are a little lost and they could do with brand representatives alongside to point out what shouldn’t be for sale.
An example of a pro-active brand is Bethesda. I saw its head of European licensing at an event last year visiting existing licensee’s and the smaller stands. When he saw unlicensed product, he showed the stall holder his card and stated calmly that his legal team were at the show and would be along in half an hour, so the offending product had to be taken down.
Sure, it helped that this man was built like he could go ten rounds with a professional boxer but the fact that he could prove he was an official representative of the brand was enough to persuade the exhibitor to co-operate.
With the bigger shows wanting to form more commercial relationships in the form of sponsorship deals with the brands, things are going in the right direction. In the future the Wild West may not be totally tamed, but it will at least be a safer place for fans and licensee’s to visit.