CREDIT cards, share certificates and even some high-yield variety seeds carry them as proof of authenticity. So do a host of well-known brands, traditional targets for the counterfeiter. Ray-Ban sunglasses, M'escos shoes, Quickfix adhesive, Surya Roshni tube fittings, Durobord plywood and Kores office stationery--they've all taken to wearing their bonafides on the sleeves. Identity cards issued by the Election Commission and marksheets of the Gujarat Secondary Education Board are sporting them. And driving licences in Delhi will soon have them.
To a swelling band of Indian companies plagued by counterfeits gnawing away at sales, a shiny three-dimensional sticker seems to be just the right pest antidote. Over 100 bodies (including several government departments) are sticking holograms of their logos on their products or packaging to separate the genuine article from the pretender. The aim: reach more customers, raise sales and protect product image.
The spin-off is a brand new trade. Suppliers are looking at some big numbers. "The hologram market today, including the demand from government departments, is worth Rs 30-40 crore, and it's growing," says Umendra K. Gupta, CEO of Delhi-based Holostik India. He expects demand to hit a sizeable Rs100 crore per annum well before the turn of the century.
"A hologram is an image reproduced on a medium using hi-specification lasers. If viewed in adequate light, it displays depth and shows colours at different angles," explains Harry Sahota, director, sales, of the Chandigarh based Gabor Holographic Labs. The pay-off: holograms are nearly impossible to duplicate, since each design is custom-made with the supplier committed to not selling the same design to anyone else, thus retaining exclusivity. The expensive technology is well beyond the means of your average Ulhasnagar counterfeiter. Moreover, most holograms cannot be re-used and are tamperevident: you try removing it and they get noticeably damaged. So if customers know that the brand they want to buy carries a hologram and recognise the design, there is virtually no chance of getting short-changed.
If holograms have a ready market in India, it's largely because the Indian Graphics by ANOOP consumer is a sitting duck for product fakers. Over 50 per cent of the auto parts sold in the country are spurious. Nearly half the mineral water you consume is ordinary tap water filled in used bottles. The marketer of a leading brand of electrical switches claims he has to contend with seven counterfeits for every three pieces he produces. Obviously, given the magnitude of the problem and the potential benefits involved, marketers feel the extra cost involved in going holographic--20 paise to Re 1 on each item sent out to the shelves, plus Rs 1-2 lakh for the imported master plate--is a small price to pay for the extra benefit. For, not only is a company one down every time a customer buys a fake, a poor-quality imitation may just turn the customer off the true brand for life. Mideast India launched its M'escos brand of shoes last year. "We took to using holograms to prevent bad publicity generated by fakes. In the long term, it will give us a customer satisfied with our quality," says Ajit Kumar, product manager.
The results, several users claim, are already showing. "Before we introduced holograms a year back, the production of fakes outstripped ours. Today, it's controlled and our sales have shot up by over 25 per cent--primarily because of its use," claims O.P. Ahluwalia, general manager, marketing, of auto parts maker QH Talbros.
Agrees Anil K. Misra, owner of Messina Beej, which sells high-yield maize seeds to farmers in Bihar: "Now, out customers have finally begun to recognise the genuine product. And sales have increased by about 15 per cent."
But do not underestimate the unfriendly neighbourhood counterfeiter and his ingenuity. Even as advertisements scream "Look out for the hologram", fake products have already started sporting fake holograms. These are ordinary stickers which shine but don't have the depth a true hologram would. Or they are just white circular patches. Or even pieces of aluminium foil from cigarette packs. Messina Beej discovered one such pretender just a month after it introduced holograms on its high-yield seeds.
The Indian bazar's version of virtual reality may revolve around optical illusion but it's hard cash that's going up in smoke. And the stakes are too high here for it to be a short, decisive battle.