Is imitation the highest form of flattery? The macro trend of dupe culture

Oct 9, 2023 |4 min read
Olaplex Dupe campaign

Dupe culture has re-emerged as a significant phenomenon. Whilst many would once turn their nose up at a counterfeit item, the younger generations are opting for cheaper imitation alternatives – and proud to show it off. Thriving off the desire for exclusivity, the #dupe hashtag now has more than 5 billion views on TikTok and expands far beyond the ‘fake’ fashion category into all areas of beauty. A quick search will find a series of dupes for a range of holy grail products spanning make-up, skincare, haircare and fragrance. And as dupes go viral, consumers are becoming more and more accepting of them.


Why has dupe culture gained traction?

Pinched pockets

A whole host of reasons sit behind the growing trend. Everyone is feeling the pinch of a rising cost of living, and with Gen Z leading the growth online, it comes as no surprise that those younger generations with lower disposable income may be more open to purchasing duplicates. Dupes allow for wide accessibility and affordability, allowing consumers to try a range of new products without the expense. With new brands emerging and innovating quicker than it’s possible to keep up with, dupes allow you to dive into product trial and experience luxury without breaking the bank. This does however point to another say-do gap, where intentions to opt for quality over quantity or greener, more ethical options go out the window for many when it comes to a significantly cheaper price tag.

Sub-trend influence

2023 has also seen rise to different consumer sub-trends across the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts that have contributed to this wider shift in behaviour. Whilst thrifting has always been viewed as savvy, it has become somewhat more admirable with a newfound coolness attached to sourcing an exciting item or product without paying full price. Earlier in the year, we also saw the concept of ‘deinfluencing’ appear on social media, amplifying dupe culture by highlighting what consumers shouldn’t buy – instead it put cheaper replacements that could do the same job, just as well as the real thing, into the spotlight.

Buying cheap doesn’t mean you have to buy twice

In the era of science-backed beauty, consumers are no longer equating high price points with high quality. A range of mass brands are in the market that are highly efficacious, dermatologically tested and affordable – think The Ordinary, CeraVe and Elf Cosmetics – creating a wider perception that quality doesn’t always come at a high cost. A trade-off on price vs quality is now no longer required as brands backed by science become more mainstream, in line with consumers becoming more in tune to and interested in what they put on their bodies.


Fake it till you make it: the brands aiming to tackle dupe culture

Mainstream brands have recently been combatting the rise of dupe’s head on in an attempt to preserve their value proposition. A well-known example comes from premium activewear brand Lululemon offering a ‘swap’ event in LA for their popular align leggings. Noticing multiple dupes in the market, they invited purchasers to pop-up stores where they could trade their fakes for a genuine pair of leggings, literally giving away the product for free. This was established as a demonstration of quality contrast – once you see and feel the real thing, you realise the products value and decide that it is worth the price, acquiring new customers as a result.

Olaplex has been one of the most recent brands to promote a campaign against dupes using a clever marketing tactic with the launch of Oladupé. A premium pre-shampoo treatment, packaged almost identically to Olaplex, claimed to repair and strengthen hair like the original – but it was actually a disguise for the real thing. When following the link to purchase the dupe, consumers were instead taken directly to the Olaplex site and given a discount code for the genuine bottle.

The result? Olaplex went viral on TikTok by creating a lot of buzz and attention with the fictious product. By building a fake brand, Olaplex created an alternative route to selling their products whilst highlighting that their bond-building innovations simply cannot be copied, enhancing their own brand value. By branding themselves ‘undupable’, Olaplex has focussed on the things others simply can’t match, with dupes unable to fulfil the same needs as the original.


So how can brands defend themselves?

  1. Showcase quality – simply put, brands need to ensure their product is perceived to be worth the price. Dupes promote overconsumption, so highlighting how your product is built to last and effectively meet needs will help to encourage investment and provide quality assurance. While a harder task to convince the younger generations, transparency around the manufacturing and distribution process can make a case against dupes and ensure consumers buy into quality.
  2. Build brand identity – brands need to create an emotional connection with consumers to allow them to buy into the product value. Whether this is focussed on sharing the foundations of the brand story, or emphasising core values, loyalty and trust needs to be built in order to keep customers coming back and make them feel part of that story.
  3. Provide education – mass produced knock-offs have large environmental impact and duping has an undeniable link to poor levels of sustainability. Educating consumers about the importance of proper, safe and ethical supply chains can help to set them apart and underpin the benefit of buying direct.

With dupe culture becoming increasingly popular and smaller price tags beating authenticity, brands require a proactive and strategic approach to maintain their competitive edge. Whilst there is a worry that dupes dethrone the original product, brands that believe in their quality and push their unique value as a selling point can overcome the shift – even if that means creating a dupe brand in the first place!


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