Protecting Brands

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Brand Security

With one in seven prescription drugs being counterfeited, there is increasing awareness of the growing problem of pharmaceutical counterfeiting and the associated health risks and enormous financial losses that can accrue from this illicit activity.

There are, however, some very practical methods converters can offer brand owners to secure the integrity of their products—by using a familiar “carrier” mechanism.
Although many companies implement brand protection on some or all of their product lines, such implementations generally have occurred after a problem has arisen and appear to be the exception, not the rule.

The central causes of such reticence could be that there simply may be too much available security technology; selection of the appropriate technology can be confusing; and brand protection almost always is perceived to be expensive.

A Good Basic Choice of Carrier
Brand owners may be well served to focus on basic technologies as a way to begin their fight against counterfeiters. A good example is the pressure-sensitive label, as p-s materials and the labels made from them have a proven track record of being cost-effective, versatile, and efficient. It is not surprising p-s labels increasingly are used as carriers of protection and security features in addition to their established tasks of communicating brand name, ingredients, and other data.

Pressure-Sensitive Materials
Coated-one-side, paper-based p-s materials are regarded as the most cost-effective. A variety of security features can be incorporated into papers or their coatings at the time of manufacture (see table). With paper-based products, minimum order quantities may be appropriate only for the highest-volume product lines, and paper is not suitable for every application.

Examples of Security Features by Material
Features Type of Protection Mechanics
Pressure-Sensitive Papers
Watermarks Overt High quality images embedded in paper as it is made.
Coating Watermarks Overt/Covert Visible on surface of papers. Hidden features can be incorporated.
Security Threads Overt/Covert Visible to the naked eye but often may contain hidden features (nanotext, etc.)
Chemical Treatment Covert/Overt Invisible surface treatments that become visible when activated.
Embedded Security Fibers Covert/Overt Can be either visible or invisible.
Security Taggants Covert/Forensic Highly secure invisiblee protection detectable only by calibrated readers or by laboratory means.
Pressure-Sensitive Films
Tamper-Evident/Frangible Overt Material destructs or tears when label removal is attempted.
Color Shifting Overt Color change as label is viewed at different angles.
Selective Release Coating Overt "VOID" or other patterns are left on the labeled substrate when removal is attempted.
UV Visible Covert Detectable with UV light source.
IR Visible Covert Detectable with Infrared light source.
UV/IR Detectable Dyes Covert Detectable with calibrated readers for pass/fail authentication.
Security Taggants Covert/Forensic Authenticated by calibrated readers and detectable only by laboratory means.
Pressure-Sensitive Adhesives
Coloring and Tinting Agents Overt Visible with naked eye.
UV Fluorescents Infrared Additives Marker Dyes Covert Invisible or hidden features detectable with special readers or calibrated authentication devices.
Security Taggants Covert/Forensic Highly secure invisible protection detectable only by calibrated readers or by laboratory means.
Paper: Information courtesy of Atlantic Paper Co., King of Prussia, PA
Films: Information courtesy of Dunmore Corp., Bristol, PA
Pressure-Sensitive Adhesives: Information courtesy of Acucote Inc., Graham, NC

Unlike paper materials, p-s films can be manufactured on a much smaller scale, and minimum order quantities are more adaptable to short-run label use. While security and protection features may be incorporated into films at the time of manufacture, they commonly are added in coatings subsequently applied to the film substrate.

The adhesive layer in a p-s laminate also can perform a viable security function. In most instances, the protection devices employed in the adhesive level will be covert, although overt and forensic solutions are readily available. While the selection of technologies may not yet be as extensive as those available in the facestock layer, there are many in development. Examples of common adhesive level technologies are included in the table.

Multi-Functional Solutions
Today, p-s labels also can provide track-and-trace functionality that is incorporated into the construction at fractions of the cost of RFID tagging and similar technologies.

Many specialty laminates now can give the brand owner the outstanding ability to employ all three capabilities (security, authentication, and track and trace) in a single technological solution.

Looking at Costs
Relevant to the discussion on the role of p-s materials for brand protection is an understanding of the cost elements. Label cost typically is established based on the type of material selected, label size, number of colors printed, and print/production run size. The incorporation of security and authentication features into the label surely will add expense in direct relation to the types and numbers of security features added.

However, within the context of the overall cost of a printed label, the added security cost factor becomes minimal. Cost-effective complex solutions are available at price points that are both practical and acceptable to most brand owners.

Layered Security
Most experts in the field of brand protection subscribe to the tenet that the most effective product designs are those that layer technologies and protection levels. There simply is no other packaging material that lends itself to the layering approach better than a pressure-sensitive.

Every laminate offers the opportunity to promote technology at both substrate and adhesive level. Further, when coupled with secure devices in printing inks and overvarnishes and/or the addition of optically variable devices on the facestock, the p-s label easily offers the possibility of employing multiple levels of protection in a product—all within a laminate that is familiar, proven, and available today.

A Powerful New Weapon in the Brand Protection War
By Corey M. Reardon

With so much technology available, it’s easy to see how brand owners and package converters can become confused and frustrated in the selection of appropriate protection methods. The Brand Protection Alliance (BPA) has a very precise focus on one of industry’s most critical topics today: brand authentication and anti-counterfeiting.

BPA members primarily are leading technology companies that can design and deliver lasting brand protection solutions—overt, covert, forensic, item-level serialization and tracking, “chipless’” track and trace, etc.—many of them involving intrinsic coating/laminating.

The BPA offers an open door to end-users and converters that are seeking security labeling and marking systems and want to evaluate the whole spectrum of professional options available for their particular applications. Its role is to educate and consult: The final choice, and its implementation and verification, is a confidential commercial matter between purchaser and supplier.

In such a sensitive area as the selection of a brand protection strategy, it makes sense for product manufacturers and retailers to consult an expert information source such as the BPA and for solutions providers at all levels—suppliers and converters—to help build a definitive database of such solutions under the BPA banner.

For full details of the BPA service platform and member companies, visit


Lynn G. Crutchfield was a member of the start-up team that founded Acucote Inc. in 1987 and where he has held positions in business development activities for the company and is the leader of Acucote's Brand Protection Team. Crutchfield also is president of the Brand Protection Alliance, a not-for-profit corporation that provides education, consultation, implementation, and verification services to converters and genuine brand owners attempting to implement strategic brand protection programs.

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