The culture of ‘fong kongs’.

The effects of branding and visual identity on
contemporary South African culture: Luxury brands versus counterfeits

According to someone called Blackett branding refers to “the forming of an impression about an object or to the object used in forming this impression.”  In ancient Rome potters marked their finished clay products with thumb prints and other markings while the clay was still wet to set them apart from other potters’ products. However, even as early as the Roman Empire there is evidence that fong kongs (cheap imitations) existed. Makers of inferior pots imitated the marks of the well-known potters in a bid to trick the paying public. By passing their goods off as authentic goods counterfeiters are literally eating off the brand and identity of authentic luxury brands.

South Africa and its ‘black diamonds’

Our current society is premised on the pursuit of personal power through brands more commonly referred to as labels. This is particularly true of South Africa given the growth of the economy and the rapid growth of the black middle class. Due to their increased wealth, purchases of luxury cars, houses and branded luxury clothing can be attributed to this group.

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The luxury industry is quite established in South Africa. It is so established that an organisation called the  South African Luxury Association was established in 2009. This organisation was established for the ‘purpose of helping to establish a solid foundation for the luxury and premium lifestyle
industries in South Africa and its neighbouring States’ (

Authentic brands versus ‘fong kongs’

There is a realisation that social identities are captured through commodities. As Durgee puts it “brands connect users to their pasts, to themselves, to each other, to a big picture life place or force, and to general societal concerns”. Luxury goods easily embody these ideals because they are mostly sold in reputable and/or expensive shops located in affluent areas frequented by affluent people. Counterfeit goods on other hand do not quite have the same effect. Due to their being counterfeit they instead embody the aspiration to the good life and not the actual good life.

The dilemma in our society is that, while the majority of people are exposed to the four main socialising agents that impact on consumer socialisation, i.e, parents, school, peers and television, not all these people can
actually afford to make the purchases that they desire due to their socialisation by any of the four agents. For example a teenager from a low income family might have a television or access to the internet but not the finances to purchase some of the luxury goods that he/she is constantly exposed to through these mediums. This offers the counterfeit goods manufacturers a target market because they are providing a lifestyle that one aspires to at a fraction of the cost.

In a nutshell, the manufacture of counterfeit goods in our society is an elaborate business that sometimes yields products that are quite similar in quality to authentic luxury brands. It is not as easy to tell them apart so much so that some are even sold in official stores at the same price as authentic brands. The price of the product or the location of the shop selling the products cannot be used as an indicator of authenticity. New technologies have made it possible for those wanting to imitate quality products to do so with more ease than in years gone by. The need to acquire is fed to us on a more regular basis because of the many
mediums of communication available to advertisers. In a culture obsessed about looking good, others are profiting from the very fact that not all of us can afford the looks that we see on TV and the internet.

Fong kong- a slang term, used mostly though not exclusively
in South Africa, that refers to knock offs or cheap imitations of authentic
branded products


Author: norushinafrica

Here in Africa., "culture is not that delicious panacea which we consume in a sacramental mental space and which has its own special columns in the newspapers -- and in people's minds. Culture is space, speed, cinema, technology..." - Jean Baudrillard (Sociologist and philosopher)

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