The idea that you are what you buy - that possessions confer status - has long existed and guided some purchasing, as most notably observed by Thorstein Veblen (1899). However, as status became associated with specific brands, the next step historically became the marketing of brand imitations.The act of branding can be traced back to the early 1800's when cowboys would brand their cattle before driving them across the central plains of the United States (Rozin 2002). In order to identify which cattle belonged to each ranch a unique symbol was permanently burned onto the cow. These symbols, in addition to serving as a means of identification, provided a set of traditions and a social identity for the cowboys.Today, companies use brands to distinguish themselves from their competition and to communicate unique qualities of their products (Aaker and Keller 1990; Low and Fullerton 1994). Once a brand is established, the brand name itself is thought to add value to the product in the minds of consumers. This added value is referred to as brand equity (Aaker 1991). Companies and designers often employ marketing strategies that capitalize on their brand equity and place a greater value on the shapes and labels of their products than the material from which they are made. Such companies provide buyers with what are conventionally called elite brands, defined by Silverstein and Fiske (2003) as those brands that possess higher levels of quality, taste and aspiration than other brands in the product category. These products are often justifiably priced higher than other brands in order to make their brand seem exclusive and more prestigious. For example, elite designers are able to transform a 10 pound t-shirt into a $200 sought after treasure (Chatpaiboon 2004). Recently, Hermes reported that customers were placed on a two-year waiting list for their most popular Birkin bag, which retails for $6000 (Branch 2004). On EBay, women engaged in bidding wars over a blue Birkin bag for which the winner ultimately paid over $13,000 (Rose 2003).
Many manufacturers have been successful in commanding a price premium for their brands. However, it seems that some designers and manufacturers have become victims of their own success. Once an elite brand has become so closely associated with status and prestige in the minds of consumers, it is only natural that other companies would want to imitate it (Rose 2003). Those who use brand imitating as a strategy to facilitate the adoption of their new product copy certain characteristics of the original brand (Kotler and Keller 2007).
Previous research has shown that consumers often use their existing perceptions of a brand to evaluate new offerings such a product or line extensions (Aaker and Keller 1990). Because it appears similar to the original brand, consumers will then transfer attributes of the original