‘Fatwa’ helps Proctor & Gamble in Anti-Counterfeiting Campaign

By Rafi-uddin Shikoh
Posted Mar 3, 2006

In Jan, 2005, DinarStandard covered an interview on the role of PR in Marketing with Mr. Haroon Sugich, C.O.O. of TRACCS, a leading Public Relations agency in the Middle East.

His comments included reference to a program commissioned by Procter and Gamble in Saudi Arabia to promote anti-counterfeit awareness that’s worth highlighting.


Mr. Haroon Sugich

The program, designed by Mr. Sugich, who is currently heading TRACCS operations in UAE, aimed to enhance awareness of the issue through an aggressive press campaign and through building relations with government and religious agencies.

The campaign proclaimed trademark counterfeiting ‘The Crime of the 21st Century and obtained a fatwa (religious edict) from the leading religious scholars. The Fatwa was the first Islamic edict declaring trademark counterfeiting to be forbidden by Islamic law and now being used by the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Following is a reproduction of Mr. Sugich’s description about the campaign and its drivers.

“We created and launched the first anti-trademark counterfeiting program in the Middle East on behalf of Procter and Gamble. Our client gave us a clear brief, extensive background and then gave us plenty of time to build and launch the program. We really had the luxury of time and this helped us create a carefully researched and thought-out plan.”

“In the course of our research we came to learn that many of the traders in Saudi Arabia trafficking in counterfeit goods were actually pious Muslims and that there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic, social and religious implications of counterfeited goods.”

“After studying the issues carefully we determined that we needed to secure a religious edict, or fatwa, declaring trademark counterfeiting to be forbidden by Shariah, or Islamic law. This would discourage traders from trafficking in counterfeit goods and would neutralize any opposition to the aggressive anti-counterfeit program we planned to launch.”

“We submitted a carefully worded letter in the form of a real-life situational scenario to the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia explaining what trademark counterfeiting was and posing the question, ‘Is it halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden)?’ We then followed the letter up with a series of telephone conversations and after a period of several weeks, we received the official reply from the Higher Council of Ulama that trademark counterfeiting was indeed haram. This was supported by verses from the Holy Qur’an
and passages from the Prophetic hadith literature.”

“Simultaneously, we launched an aggressive media campaign calling trademark counterfeiting ‘The Crime of the 21st Century’, focussing on the detrimental impact on the economy, using dramatic statistics we’d gathered (over 1 billion Saudi riyals a year lost to the economy, over 1 trillion dollars lost internationally and between 25%- 40% of all trademark goods in Saudi Arabia are counterfeit) and highlighting the dangers of counterfeit goods.”

“In Arabic the word crime (jareema) is almost never used by the Saudi press in a headline but they made an exception in this case and the result was a surge of media interest in the issue. Over a 9 month period, we managed to increase press coverage of trademark counterfeiting by 500% and made the subject one of the most popular issues in the press. At the same time we forged ties with religious leaders to discourage Muslims’ involvement in the trade. We also formed alliances with law enforcement officials to support their efforts to stamp out the illicit trade and covered raids and seizures.”

“The program was short-listed for an IABC Gold Quill Award. We could not have achieved these results without the patience, support and intelligence of P&G. It is, I believe, an example of how public relations works best: when client and agency work closely together with mutual understanding and respect and seeking out long-term results rather than instant media gratification.”

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TRACCS/SACCS, headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has offices in all the key Middle East markets. Although, it is affiliated with Cohn & Wolfe (a WPP Group company), TRACCS prides itself in being an agency built locally from scratch that promotes local talent. It has managed to combine world-class professional communication skills and efficiencies with a deep understanding of the cultural, religious, bureaucratic and commercial sensibilities of the region. Its impressive range of clients includes global brands such as Visa International, Electrolux AB, Procter and Gamble, American Express, and regional giants such as The Savola Group, and Saudia Airlines.

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