Out-of-category brand imitation: Product categorization determines copycat evaluation

F. van Horen, Rik Pieters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Copycat brands imitate the trade dress of other brands, such as their brand name, logo, and packaging design. Copycats typically operate in the core product category of the imitated brand under the assumption that such “in-category imitation” is most effective. In contrast, four experiments demonstrate the benefits of “out-of-category imitation” for copycats, and the harmful effect on the imitated brand. Copycats are evaluated more positively in a related category, because consumers appraise the similarity between copycat and imitated brand more positively than in the core category, independent of the perceived similarity itself. This is due to a reduced salience of norms regarding imitation in the related category. Moreover, the results show a damaging backlash effect of out-of-category imitation on the general evaluation of the imitated brand and on its key perceived product attributes. The findings replicate across student, MTurk, and representative consumer samples; multiple product categories; and forms of brand imitation. This research demonstrates that out-of-category brand imitation helps copycat brands and hurts national leading brands much more than has so far been considered, which has managerial and public policy implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)816-832
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number4
Early online dateApr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • product imitation
  • copycats
  • categorization
  • similarity


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