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What Is Brandjacking?

Brand impersonation and abuse is a type of brandjacking

Brandjacking, otherwise known as brand impersonation, refers to when an unknown entity assumes the persona of a brand for nefarious purposes.  The term, a blend of the words "brand" and "hijacking," has been in use for quite some time. However, it is only recently the term has entered common parlance, likely because — thanks to social media — this genre of brand abuse has become a greater threat for companies worldwide.

What kinds of brandjacking exist?

An individual simply creating a social media account in the name of a well-known brand would be classified as brandjacking. This sometimes entails creating accounts with subtle misspellings. For example, someone might create a Facebook page titled British Air Ways to brandjack British Airways. Similarly, existing social media accounts might change their name and avatar to mimic a brand, often for humorous purposes. 

Other times, brandjacking takes the shape of scam emails or texts. A consumer advice outlet recently reported on a convincing email being used to con BT customers into handing over personal details. According to the outlet, the brandjackers used "BT’s recognisable branding," "its colour scheme and logo," as well as its "genuine phone number and address," and "links to the company’s online scam advice, privacy policy and terms and conditions." Regretfully, these kinds of emails or texts – more widely known as phishing attacks – are common. According to the Anti Phishing Working Group (APWG), there was an all-time high of 316,747 phishing attacks in December 202. 

Another type of brandjacking is cybersquatting. This is when someone obtains a domain name that's similar (or the same) to the name of a well-known brand. Often, the motivation behind this kind of brandjacking is profit; the cybersquatter wants to sell the domain to the brand in question for a higher price than what they bought it for. Other times, the cybersquatter simply wants to rile the brand in question, set up a satire account, and wreak havoc for their own entertainment. 

Finally, there is also offline brandjacking. This is when other businesses copy the look and feel of your product in their own. If you walk into a Kilburn Fried Chicken (KFC) instead of a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on your way home, then you are sampling an instance of poultry-based offline brandjacking. 

Why do threat actors brandjack?

While the motivation behind scam-based brandjacking are obviously criminal, brandjacking sometimes happens for moral, ethical, or campaigning-related reasons. This type of brandjacking often takes the form of spoofs or parodies. For example, environmental campaigners Greenpeace brandjacked the oil company Shell back in 2012. The viral video and satirical website Greenpeace created protested against Shell's drilling missions in the Arctic. Tech reporters and innumerable social media users took the video and website to be valid, much to the chagrin of the real oil company.

The risks of brandjacking

The consequences of this kind of brand abuse vary. Whether or not brandjacking constitutes an unlawful infringement on intellectual property rights depends on the specifics of any incident in question. That said, brandjacking nearly always runs the risk of eroding a brand’s hard-earned trust and reputation. 

Building up a reputation for your business can take years; the idea that unknown entities easily can assume your brand’s persona naturally worries many business owners. Luckily, you can take steps to stop this form of brand abuse. With the right tool and the right people, you can know about what is being said about your brand online at all times.


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