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'Rolex' spam taps into bling-bling culture

Will Rolex replace Viagra as the brand most commonly mentioned in your junk mail folder? One expert says it already has.

Rolex watches have long been seen as a must-have product among the aspiring nouveau riche--but the brand, built upon high standards of quality and prohibitive costs, is in danger of being sullied by unsolicited e-mail.

In the same way that Viagra has been a brand made synonymous with spam, so Rolex is in danger of becoming a generic byword for unsolicited e-mails.

A vast number of spam e-mails offering either cut-price Rolex watches or fakes are currently flooding people's in-boxes--growing in number more than any other kind of message, according to e-mail security company MessageLabs.

The deluge appears to have begun in earnest last week. Natasha Staley, information analyst at MessageLabs, said the company has seen this sort of spam explode on the scene.

"Of all the brands out there being exploited by spam, Rolex is now by far the most common," she said.

Staley believes the marketers behind the products may be trying to cash in on "bling-bling culture," which is fueling a desire for famous-name jewelery and flashy trinkets and accessories--whether fake or genuine.

Many of the offers are promising watches, described as indistinguishable from the real thing, for as little as $75. Behind the campaign would appear to be a Web site called OnlineReplicaStore.com, which also offers watches from other manufacturers, including Bulgari, Cartier and Chopard. At least six seemingly different e-mail campaigns link to OnlineReplicaStore.com, through variously disguised URLs.

The owners of the site could not immediately be reached for comment.

Forgeries are nothing new. In the past, many travelers have returned from destinations, typically in the Far East, with fake Rolex watches, but the launch of spam campaigns to sell such products threatens far greater market saturation.

A statement on the Rolex Web site claims: "Official Rolex watches are sold through official Rolex jewelers and are not available on the internet."

But for many, fakes will be close enough, and their proliferation will do enough to dilute the exclusivity of the Rolex brand.

"These products are appealing to the kind of people who buy fake Burberry caps. They probably don't care that they are fake," Staley said. "The Rolex brand is built upon exclusivity, and this does erode away at the brand."

As with all spam marketing, however, consumers should be aware that there is no guarantee the product bought will even turn up, and MessageLabs' Staley warned against handing credit card details to spam marketers.

"If these people are prepared to rip off watches, they are probably prepared to rip off credit cards," she said, sounding a warning to any consumers tempted by some cheap "bling."

Will Sturgeon of Silicon.com reported from London.