Why Brands Can Benefit From ‘Dupe’ Culture
Roughly half of Gen Z adults (46%) and millennials (50%) said a product going viral is important to them when considering whether or not to purchase it.
Nearly one-third (31%) of U.S. adults report having intentionally purchased a dupe of a premium or luxury product, with this group skewing younger, lower income and very online.
Most U.S. adults don’t view duping as a major problem for companies, suggesting it’s a safe topic that brands should feel free to activate around, especially on social media.
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Spend any time on TikTok and you’ll likely hear the word “dupe” a lot. The term, short for “duplicate,” has become a catch-all descriptor for cheaper alternatives to popular premium or luxury products.
What exactly constitutes a dupe, however, varies. Some creators highlight actual knockoffs of designer items, while others discuss where to find similar versions of high-end goods at lower prices, often citing the likes of Walmart or DHgate.com. TikTok videos with the #dupe hashtag have racked up nearly 6 billion views to date, and playful variations of the phrase, such as #doop or #doupe, account for hundreds of millions more.
Many category and brand-specific dupe hashtags have also gone viral on the platform. Those driving the highest viewership primarily reflect the interests of young women, who are some of TikTok’s most active users. Skims, Lululemon, Bottega Veneta and Ugg are among the apparel brands consistently tagged by users who claim to know about dupes. On the beauty and hair care front, cult-favorite products from Charlotte Tilbury, Dior, Olaplex and Dyson are regularly referenced. And while dupe discourse is strongly associated with TikTok, it’s not limited to it. The topic permeates nearly every online medium, from YouTube and Instagram to digital magazine listicles and blogs.
The rise of this subculture raises questions for brands about the extent of which internet interest in dupes drives purchasing behavior, and also concerns about reputational risks of either being duped or being known as a dupe. New research from Morning Consult provides further context: Roughly one-third (31%) of all U.S. adults said they have intentionally purchased a dupe of a premium product at some point, with this figure being much higher among Gen Z adults (49%) and millennials (44%). In response to a separate question, an overwhelming majority of respondents described the presence of dupes as either a minor or entirely non-issue for brand reputation.
These results suggest that consumers, especially young ones, are eager participants in the dupe economy and view it, on balance, as nontoxic to the perceptions of involved companies. Though being duped in a prominent way is undoubtedly an operational nuisance, brands should consider it an opportunity to light-heartedly (and authentically!) engage with popular culture. Of course, the data is also good news for brands like E.l.f. Beauty, which has embraced the positioning of a lower-priced alternative and seen sales skyrocket in recent quarters.
Dupe shoppers are young and online
Because dupe culture found a microphone in TikTok, we asked respondents how virality impacts their shopping decisions — and the results were not insignificant. More than a third of U.S. adults (36%) said a product going viral is important to them when considering whether or not to purchase it, and much larger shares of Gen Z adults (46%) and millennials (50%) said the same. These groups are also most likely to report having purchased a dupe.
Roughly Half of Gen Z Adults Buy Dupes
In addition to their younger skew, 70% of intentional dupe shoppers have a TikTok account (compared with 45% of all U.S. adults). Morning Consult Brand Intelligence data shows that awareness, favorability and purchase consideration figures for frequently duped brands like Lululemon and Charlotte Tilbury are consistently higher among TikTok users than the general public. And dupe destinations like Amazon, Walmart and Alibaba also historically outperform among this demographic.
What we do that’s different: Brand data used in this analysis is available exclusively in Morning Consult Intelligence, an exclusive online platform tracking consumer attitudes daily on key indicators for nearly 4,000 brands in 40+ markets.
What Morning Consult Intelligence tracks: Globally, we ask consumers daily about awareness, trust, purchasing behaviors, favorability, net promoter score and buzz. This depth and frequency offers an exclusive, real-time pulse identifying changes in consumer opinion.
Income level is another important part of the dupe shopper picture, as nearly half (49%) report an annual household income of under $50,000. Two-thirds (67%) of these consumers said saving money is a major factor when deciding whether or not to purchase a dupe, representing the largest share of nine tested reasons.
However, sizable portions of dupe shoppers (42%) — and, more broadly, all U.S. adults (29%) — cited a desire to “see if the dupe is as good as the real version” as an additional major force behind the behavior. This suggests that, as consumers continue to lose interest in traditional shopping, gamifying the experience is an effective way to recapture their attention. This is particularly true for low-income shoppers, who cite entertainment value as a reason they enjoy shopping. By prompting consumers with an objective — such as testing or learning about the merits of certain products against off-brand alternatives — brands can bring an elevated sense of fun (and investment) into an in-store environment.
Lululemon astutely demonstrated this when it hosted its first-ever “dupe swap” earlier this year. The athleisure retailer invited consumers who had purchased any duplicated version of its popular $98 Align tights to Los Angeles’ Century City Mall, where they could donate them in exchange for a free pair of the real thing. The event attracted nearly 1,000 participants, half of whom were new to the brand, and resulted in ample earned media opportunities. Lululemon Chief Brand Officer Nikki Neuburger later described the activation as “a really fun way to play into something that is a real part of our culture” while putting the focus back on the quality of their “original” product.
It’s hip to be duped
In another sign that getting duped has its benefits, approximately two-thirds of U.S. adults said they associate positive words like “fashionable” (70%), “trendy” (68%) and “elite” (63%) with oft-duped brands. This means the widely known presence of a dupe(s) is effectively a consumer stamp of approval that companies should feel empowered to lean into — especially considering a wide majority of U.S. adults view duping as a minor problem, if one at all.
Most U.S. Adults Say Dupes Aren’t a Major Problem
Gen Z adults are least likely to express concern over dupes: Just 14% said they believe it’s a major issue for brands. This is unsurprising not only because the generation is more fond of dupes than any other, but also because previous Morning Consult research has identified them as a notoriously brand disloyal group.
That said, dupe culture will likely become a permanent part of young shoppers’ habits, which presents brands with an always-on opportunity — on either side of the coin — to actively engage with, and create memorable moments for, Gen Z consumers (and potentially capture a lasting share of their high-volume spending habits in the process).
Olaplex did just that with its newest hair care product, which it rolled out in late September via sponsored influencer posts on TikTok under the name Oladupé. Days later, the influencers posted again, removing the product’s Oladupé label to reveal it was the real offering, Olaplex No. 3, all along. The campaign — meant to join in on the dupe fun while calling attention to the brand’s unique advantages — has generated millions of views and tons of online conversations in just a few weeks.
The dupe loop and beyond: the opportunity the trend presents for brands
Ultimately, the dupe economy seems to be circular, with the potential to elevate the perceptions of most duped brands and increase visibility (and sales) for brands that offer close imitations of popular higher-end products at lower price points.
But there’s even possible upside for brands that don’t find themselves intimately involved with the dupe ecosystem. As long as TikTok continues to set the tone for what’s hot on the internet, dupe discourse will likely be around and salient, providing all companies with a long runway and lots of fodder to eventually inject their own wit into the conversation. As long as young people are online and looking to shop, they will likely at least consider (or be confronted by) dupes, so brands would be wise to communicate a perspective, one way or another.
Ellyn Briggs is a brands analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises brand and marketing leaders on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Ellyn worked as a market researcher and brand strategist in both agency and in-house settings. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].