Fake is cool: Luxury brands are urged to embrace the rise of #dupe

High-end brands should ‘lean in’ and embrace the #dupe subculture that feeds on recommending duplicates or cheaper alternatives to luxury products, social media experts advise.

Dupes, counterfeits and brand imitators are not new: the first wave of beauty YouTubers highlighted cheaper products as early as 2010. But in the past, buying imitation items was mainly done with the intention of passing the item off as the real thing.

The difference now is that buying #dupe is no longer the same as duping or being duped. With the proliferation of shareable short video platforms, counterfeiting has become hip, with Generation Z openly finding and flaunting their dupes.

“The rise of dupe culture signals a generational shift in the consumption of goods and media,” says Jennifer Baker, growth marketing leader at Grin, a creator management platform.

“Previous generations may have shrewdly shopped for counterfeit products, but Generation Z has not only normalized buying counterfeit or generic products, but has grown the #dupe movement into one of the most searched terms on social media.”

The change is so profound that research shows that even when Generation Z or Millennials can afford to buy a real designer item, many still opt for a dupe: Nearly a third of American adults said they deliberately choose a dupe of a premium or luxury product. product, with at least 11% of UK consumers purchasing a dupe product at least once every few months.

Half say they buy dupes for the savings, while 17% say that even if they could afford the genuine article, dupes are a great alternative.

Insiders say dupe culture is likely to become a permanent part of young shoppers’ habits, with the ‘dupe discourse’ permeating every online medium from YouTube and Instagram to digital magazine lists and blogs.

Most consistently tagged are items that appeal to younger women – the internet’s biggest users – including clothing brands Lululemon leggings, Skims shapewear, Bottega Veneta, Ugg, Charlotte Tilbury Foundation, Adidas Sambas, Dior, Olaplex and Dyson.

Adidas sambas are often duped. Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

The trend is so popular that TikTok videos with the hashtag #dupe have racked up nearly 6 billion views to date. Playful variations of the phrase, like #doop or #doupe, account for hundreds of millions more: type “I found the perfect dupe” into TikTok and watch the hundreds of thousands of videos appear.

What constitutes a dupe ranges from genuine counterfeits to advice on how to find cheaper versions of high-quality products. In some cases, dupes are openly produced by retailers seeking to undercut their rivals – discount supermarket chains Aldi and Lidl are known for their imitations of private label products.

Stevie Johnson, director of influencer marketing agency Disrupt, warned of a problem when bigger brands start misleading smaller, independent brands. “But as long as the legal implications are taken into account, I don’t see much downside to dupes,” he said.

Dupes are sometimes made by third-party manufacturers and sold on online platforms such as Amazon. These products may be openly marketed as dupes, but in other cases, influencers find them and highlight them on their platforms as the “perfect dupe.”

Influencers also fall into different camps, from those who work for brands and creators in a paid capacity – who must use the hashtag #ad in a prominent position – and those for whom recommending dupes is an unpaid part of their online identity.

For Generation Z, experts say, the dupe discourse is less about curating authentic designer goods and more about consuming authentic social content to achieve the same look for less money.

But because dupe products are often made by unknown brands, maker recommendations are more important than ever in determining the difference between an affordable substitute and a cheap gimmick.

This is why, said a consumer communications leader at TikTok, a good dupe recommendation can make a TikToker an overnight sensation.

“If one creator or influencer finds a cheaper product that everyone else wants to buy, they can go stratospheric overnight,” they said.

But wherever the brunt comes from, experts say companies should see it as an opportunity to strengthen their brand and refresh their cultural relevance.

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“Brands don’t have to worry about their reputation being damaged because it’s all so open,” says Sophie Hardie, client director at influencer marketing agency The Goat Agency.

“Instead of fighting dupes, high-end brands should use dupes to engage with popular culture in a light-hearted way. They need to be direct – and authentic – about bringing in new people and demonstrating confidence in the power of their brand,” she added.

Johnson agreed and advised bigger brands to become more playful. “Brands are going to have to start playing with this a little more,” he said. “If they do that, they can attract new customers who might not have come to them in the first place without the dupe’s attention.”

Ellyn Briggs, a brand analyst for US technology research group Morning Consult, conducted research showing that being duped even had benefits for the ‘dupee’, with around two-thirds of US adults saying they associate positive words like ‘fashionable’. , “trendy” and “elite” with often duped brands.

“This means that the widely known presence of a dupe is essentially a consumer stamp of approval that companies should feel empowered to step in – especially considering that a large majority of American adults view duping as a minor problem , if that’s even a problem,” Briggs said. .

Last year, sportswear company Lululemon did just this. The luxury, $50 billion company pulled a marketing blinder by offering fans in Los Angeles who bought a Lululemon dupe of the popular $98 Align panty the chance to trade them in for the real thing at the store.

The ‘dupe swap’ came after TikTok user Ariana Vitale’s post about Lululemon dupes received more than 955,000 views — leading to the generic hashtag #lululemondupes getting more than 150 million hits.

“It felt like a really fun way to start a cultural conversation,” said Nikki Neuburger, Lululemon’s Chief Brand Officer. “Part of the reason we felt confident about that is because we really know our products are the best; and when you try them, we felt like people would have that sensory ‘Aha’ moment.”

The gamble worked: According to Lululemon, 50% of the more than 1,000 people who came to the exchange were new customers — and half were under 30 years old. The response far exceeded Neuburger’s expectations: her team is now considering expanding the swap idea to more events in other markets.

Olaplex is another luxury brand that has fully joined the dupe discourse, generating millions of views and online conversations in just a few weeks.

Olaplex released its latest hair care product last September – and at the same time sponsored TikTok influencers to hail an Olaplex dupe under the name Oladupé.

However, when the influencers’ link was clicked, people were taken to the official Olaplex page and told that there was no duping involved because nothing can be as good as the real deal.

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