‘Announcing record profits is not acceptable when there is a cost-of-living crisis’: Why knock-off brands are winning

Australians are finding joy in discovering cheaper, so-called ‘dupe’ products, as the cost-of-living continues unabated and the disconnect between expensive brands and discretionary budgets widens.

This is one of a raft of interesting findings in the Pollinate’s bi-annual The Australia Pulse study, which found that 49% of respondents are now buying little treats for themselves less often, with 62% not having bought anything in the past month to “escape” the everyday.

This is balance somewhat by the bargain-hunters’ delight, with half of people have bought a “dupe” – basically a knock-off brand – in the past four weeks, with 73% reporting they are buying more “own label” and less branded items.

In addition, 71% think “dupe” brands are better value for money than “the real thing”; 67% believe that “own label” and “dupe” brands are just as good as branded alternatives; 75% think the existence of “dupes” is proof brands are overpriced; and 73% agree that “dupes” reveal which brands charge too much.

Not surprisingly, during a cost-of-living crisis, people are looking for value-for-money – which they aren’t currently finding in tertiary study. Interestingly, though, those students about to take the leap into further studies believe in the value of it.

Mumbrella spoke to Pollinate’s CEO, Howard Parry-Husbands, about what these results tell us about Australians – and how this can help marketers.

People are spending money on fake brands, and questioning the mark-ups, etc. – is that purely about cost-of-living, or is something else at play? 

The trigger is the cost of living, but the underlying reason is dissatisfaction with brands being over-priced relative to what they deliver. In other words, an “own brand” muesli or chocolate bar is as good as the premium brand itself. Other things at play here are resentment at brands ripping them off (think: Robin Hood); genuine delight at how ‘dupes’ are just as good as the brands they are ‘duping’; ironic pride as ‘dupes’ signal the sign of a smarter shopper; and anger, at supermarkets, corporates and multi-nationals making huge profits with high-priced products when the ordinary person is struggling to pay bills.

These results show cost-of-living pressures, but also suggest a resistance to being marketed to. Did you find this to be true?

No, there is no real evidence of resistance to being marketed to.

What surprised you most about the results?

The overwhelming positivity towards ‘dupes’ and the negativity towards current patterns of consumption and consumer choices.

School-students being the ones who most believe in the value of education – this is a surprising finding. Why do you think this is?

This makes sense as if all you have ever known in life is education and how important that education is, it becomes self-evident that you would be more likely – especially than other people who have experienced more of life than just education – to rate education highly.

What can marketers of high-end/costly brands learn from this? 

The message for high-end, more costly brands should be to demonstrate how they are actually worth the premium; to justify corporate share price against what people actually want: they want to know how the product is better; how the environmental impact is better; how employees and suppliers are treated; and willingness to drop price or demonstrate a level of care about people’s cost of living pressures.

Things like announcing record profits is not acceptable when there is a cost-of-living crisis and many in society are vocally saying they are struggling.

Conversely, what can those selling ‘dupes’ do, in terms of positioning/marketing etc?

The message for ‘dupe’ brands should be clear: double down on the value and worth!  It’s clear the public is ready to shift loyalty and custom to better choice because it’s as good or close enough that it might as well be, and it’s half the price. It’s also worth considering positioning as the “smart choice” for everyday Australians.


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