Ludovica Cesareo

A discussion with Marketing Postdoctoral Fellow Ludovica Cesareo and the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative (WiN). Interview and write-up by Katie Fazio (W’20 C’20).

(WiN): Can you talk a little bit about your background? What brought you to the Wharton Marketing department?

Cesareo: I come from Rome, Italy, and I did all my undergraduate and graduate studies at Sapienza, the first public university in Rome. There, I finished my master’s degree writing a thesis on counterfeit goods, which is still one of my main research areas today. After that, I went straight into my PhD in Marketing, in which I continued to study counterfeit goods, from both consumers and companies’ perspectives. While I was finishing my PhD, I was a visiting scholar at Villanova School of Business, where I worked with Prof. Peggy Chaudhry.

Under her guidance and that of my advisor, Prof. Alberto Pastore, I wrote my dissertation examining both consumer behavior with and company solutions against counterfeiting. I then started thinking about other correlates of counterfeit consumption, and that is when I started working with Professor Patti Williams at Wharton. We figured it would be really interesting to look at the emotional underpinnings of “immoral” behavior, with counterfeiting being the selected context of study.

Now, I am in the second year of my post-doctoral fellowship at Wharton where in addition to research, I also have teaching responsibilities in both the undergraduate (Intro to Marketing) and graduate MBA (Advertising Management) programs.

(WiN): What are your research interests?

Cesareo: I still have a really big interest in counterfeit goods, and lately I’ve been very focused on luxury counterfeit goods. One of my main projects right now is looking at fashion knowledge as a determinant of a consumer’s preference for luxury counterfeit vs. authentic goods. When people are knowledgeable about the luxury and fashion industry, are they more or less likely to purchase counterfeits? And how will they evaluate the counterfeit’s impact on the authentic luxury brand? As intuition would suggest, they should be less likely to purchase the counterfeits and more strongly believe it will negatively affect the original. Once a consumer knows and appreciates the value of the original, they know the counterfeit doesn’t provide them with the same benefits. In fact, we consistently find that low fashion knowledge is an important driver in people’s reactions to counterfeits and their beliefs on how the counterfeits will (more positively) impact the original.  

Within the luxury counterfeit sphere, I am also working with Prof. Patti Williams and Prof. Robert Meyer on another project. We are looking at visual cues for luxury counterfeit goods. We wanted to use eye-tracking to determine whether people have a mental model of what they are looking for when they are searching for a counterfeit good. For now, we have found a faster (and cheaper) method in using heat maps on Qualtrics. We ask participants to look at a purse and tell us whether they think it is counterfeit. They then click on the different parts of the image that suggested to them the product was counterfeit. We can then backtrack the click locations and craft a heat map based on what they clicked upon, which is assumingly very highly correlated with what they were looking for. We are currently running a field study, where we unobtrusively film individual’s inspection patterns on a pair of handbags when they are told they are either both authentic, both counterfeit or one authentic and one counterfeit to see if there are differences not only in what they look at, but also their decision-making patterns and preferences.

A third project I am working on right now, again with Prof. Patti Williams, and that has interesting neuroscience implications is on the emotion of awe. Awe is an emotion you typically feel in front of complex stimuli, either extraordinary things in nature (a beautiful sunset, panorama) or extraordinary human capability (a beautiful piece of art, architecture, or music, to name a few). Since we are marketing professors, we wondered if beautiful products could evoke awe? And the answer is, yes, in fact they do. So next, we looked at what happens as a consequence of feeling that emotion and of actually perceiving the beautiful product as being “sacred”. Interestingly, we find that if the company that makes the product carries out some kind of transgression, whether related to the product itself or not, you are more willing to forgive them because their product is so awe-inspiring. To nicely wrap up this project we would like to use fMRI to look at which areas of the brain light up in response to the awe-evoking product: will they be the same as those evoked by say a beautiful sunset? And if not, which areas light up?

(WiN): Who or what do you think has had the most influence on your work?

Cesareo: Definitely, Prof. Peggy Chaudhry at Villanova School of Business. She has been in this field for over thirty years and her body of work is very influential. In my dissertation, I did an extensive literature review of 572 articles published on counterfeiting and piracy, which I then published as a monograph, and she was the most prolific author globally. I would say that both her body of work and having had the chance to work with her really shaped who I am as a researcher today. She is truly an expert on counterfeiting: she has done testimonies for WIPO and WTO cases, and has published numerous articles and books on the topic. I definitely see her as an influencer and just as an inspiring researcher in this field.

I would then say that there are a few concepts that were particularly inspiring for me in terms of luxury counterfeiting. In 2010, Han, Nunes and Drèze published research in The Journal of Marketing that did a nice taxonomy of luxury consumers. In the study, they categorized luxury consumers based on their actual wealth and their need for status, meaning how much they need to signal to others that they are wealthy. What is fascinating is that the people who are more likely to buy counterfeit goods (the “poseurs”) are the people who have a high need for status and a high need to show off, but that do not have the financial means to purchase the authentic products. I think that is something that has really shaped the way I think about luxury and luxury/counterfeit luxury consumers, especially today where the difference between the two consumer categories is not clear-cut anymore. In the past, the person who bought the original would never have bought the counterfeit. Today, I feel like the boundaries are much more blurred, and counterfeit consumption is on more of a spectrum rather than a dichotomy.

(WiN): What is your favorite field specific vocabulary word?

Cesareo: When I studied counterfeiting from a company perspective, I discovered an entire range of technology solutions to fight against the phenomenon: covert, overt and track-and-trace solutions. A covert solution is not visible to the naked eye, like hidden ink or a watermark; an overt solution is visible to the naked eye, like a hologram, tag or a label; finally, a track-and-trace solution is something like RFID, used to track originals through the supply and distribution chains. I think grey market goods is another great one. Not all counterfeits are alike: they vary between super deceptive and completely non-deceptive, meaning between products that people don’t know or clearly know are fake. In addition to those two main categories, there are all these other counterfeit types that play into that. Grey market goods, for example, are original products sold through an illegal distribution channel; so the product is real, but it is not authorized to be sold on the street or in a specific outlet.

(WiN): What can the average marketer, business person, or person trying to protect their product take away from the research that has been done with respect to counterfeit?

Cesareo: Looking at everything that has been done, results have been a bit dispersive and contributions a bit hard to pinpoint. What I think is important for companies comes down to four things: protect, collaborate, prosecute, and in-form. So protect is obvious: protect everything you have, whether tangible or intangible. Collaborate: especially in luxury, there is a lot of fierce competition amongst brands, but counterfeiting is the one topic that brands never compete upon. Not just in luxury, but in any industry really, companies should participate in as many international organizations that fight against counterfeits as possible. Prosecute means that whether you catch someone selling something on the street versus producing illegally in a factory, prosecute them legally; even if it is tedious and long, it is important to send counterfeiters a strong signal. Finally, in-form, means both information, such as making consumers aware of what making and purchasing a counterfeit really means because often times they don’t know, but also formation, in the sense of educating your channel partners about identifying and reporting a fake.

(WiN): Where do you think the research on piracy or counterfeit goods is headed?

Cesareo: That is a great question and a really hard one. When I did my extensive literature review, what I realized was that there was a ton of research looking at specific antecedents to attitudes and behavior, but they were not building off each other. I think neuroscience can play a big role in this field, because what has been done so far has been mainly through surveys and self-reported answers. I absolutely think that experimentation and neural analyses of what goes on in people’s brains when they are faced with the question of whether or not to purchase a counterfeit, is fundamental for the advancement of the field.

Postdoctoral Fellow Spotlight

Ludovica Cesareo, PhD


Postdoctoral Fellow, Wharton Marketing Department

Research Interests


Recent Relevant Books Read

Il Libro Nero Della Contraffazione (The Black Book of Counterfeiting) by Antonio Selvatici

Protecting Your Intellectual Property Rights by Peggy Chaudhry

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