Leaking of visual assets costs businesses $8m per product launch, study reveals
Consumer electronics, fashion, luxury goods, and advertising businesses are particularly susceptible to leaks of images and video of new products. Just how big is the problem, and what can be done about it?
High-profile data leaks are a constant reminder of the importance of protecting sensitive business and data / Imatag
From Meta and Cambridge Analytica to the Pentagon, high-profile data leaks keep happening, constantly reminding organizations of the importance of protecting sensitive business and customer data. But what about leaks of other types of digital assets? What about still images and video?
New research from visual content tracking technology provider Imatag, shows that a leak of visual assets can cost a business $8m on average per leak. It can leave the company vulnerable to counterfeiting, loss of competitive advantage, contractual issues, and damage to its reputation. It can also force a rethink of product release strategies and timetables. And while major data breaches are still relatively rare, most companies suffer from a leak of visual assets every time they launch a new product.
The research also found that:
The top sources of visual content leaks are agency subcontractors (in 55% of cases), and retailer platforms (in 48%)
Agencies take a different view of leaks to their clients. They’re more likely to think the occurrence of leaks is increasing, and they’re twice as likely to think leaks happen deliberately
Half the companies and agencies surveyed reported suffering visual content leaks approximately once a year
Companies’ data protection measures don’t usually go as far as visual assets. Instead, these are typically handled by the legal department through NDAs and lawsuits.
Areas of concern
How worried a company is about all this depends on the sector it operates in. Concern is by far the greatest in consumer electronics, followed by the fashion and luxury goods, advertising and promotion, and high-tech sectors. The report suggests this is partly due to these sectors’ vulnerability to visual content leaks, and partly to the potential impact of such leaks. It quotes the head of marketing at an EU consumer electronics manufacturer saying: “You have to live with the fact that there are leaks every time you have a product launch... This is a very, very hot topic within our company.”
According to the research, the risk of counterfeiting is businesses’ number one concern around theft of their digital assets.
“Product visuals are available long before the product itself,” says Mathieu Desoubeaux, chief executive officer at Imatag. “Well before the launch, designs, renderings, and photos of the product will go from hand to hand to produce all the necessary visuals. Brands are often unaware of the value of these visuals or struggle to protect them from being leaked. Yet these are the images that will be used to produce counterfeit goods before the product launch.”
Sales of counterfeit goods cost the fashion industry over €26bn a year. They also damage the counterfeited brand’s reputation, and cause shoppers to think twice about buying the brand’s products again. A survey by market research firm Incopro found 35% of people would be less likely to buy that brand’s products from an online marketplace, and 34% less likely to buy directly from the brand’s website as a result of it being associated with counterfeiting.
Lost revenue, lost time, lost buzz
Revenues also suffer when images or videos of a new product are leaked before a launch. Excitement about the new release causes sales of current models to fall, while competitors have time to plan for, and respond to, any new features or innovations introduced.
“When a visual content leak occurs, it forces companies and agencies working on launch campaigns to change their roll-out strategies,” the report’s authors explain. “These leaks not only damage brand image, but also compromise the entire launch by diminishing the ‘buzz’ around the event. This means that valuable time and money is lost, and team trust may be compromised.”
Apple suffered a leak just prior to the launch of the iPhone 13 in September 2021. As product marketing executive Greg Joswiak said: “We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else.”
Combating the threat
So, what can companies do to combat the threat of visual content leaks? The main approaches are legal and technological.
The legal route involves non-disclosure agreements and embargos. These aim to provide compensation to the company that suffers the leak and prevent the leaker from profiting from their actions. But they can’t actually prevent leaks or identify the individual leaker.
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On the technology side, companies are increasingly using digital rights management and digital asset management systems. These include controls to restrict access to assets across the organization and its partners. But again, they can’t prevent people who have access to the assets from leaking them, either deliberately or by accident.
Metadata is also often attached to assets as a way of tracking them, but it can be removed or made inaccessible. The next step on from this is digital watermarking.
“Invisible digital watermarking allows you to create multiple copies of an image and embed each with a recipient-unique identifier,” explains Desoubeaux. “You can then crawl the web to detect leaks and determine their source thanks to the image-specific identifier.”
Sensitivity becomes suspicion
Another area where visual content leaks can cause damage is staff morale. In highly sensitive sectors such as fashion, that sensitivity can spill over into distrust and finger-pointing, making everyone involved in product launches feel like they’re under suspicion.
For this reason, the report’s authors conclude that: “While the impacted job roles are often downstream, it is up to the decision makers to take the lead, either by alerting the information security department to the specific issue of visual content leaks, or by putting the choice of a dedicated protection solution in the hands of its agency, before it’s too late.”
To learn more about the risks, costs and consequences of visual content leaks for brands and agencies, check out the full report here.
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