Experience copycats: the Compostela case

Publication Date16 Sep 2019
AuthorVeronique Cova,Bernard Cova
Experience copycats: the Compostela case
Veronique Cova
Department of Marketing, Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, France, and
Bernard Cova
Kedge Business School, Marseille, France
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the phenomenon of experience copycats. Despite being a growing problem for organisations
selling extraordinary experiences, it remains a largely under-researched eld of study. By analysing consum erssense of the extraordinary brand
experience copycats in which they have participated, it becomes possible to detect the meanings they ascribe to imitations of experiential featu res
as opposed to experiential themes.
Design/methodology/approach The paper is based on the ethnographic study of a group of individuals who spent 12 days on a Québec copycat
of the Way to Compostela. The methods include participant observation, photos, non-directive in terviews, semi-directive interviews and
Findings The papers main contribution is to demonstrate that participants in extraordinary experience copycats do not ascribe meanings to them
based solely on their own personal feelings. Instead, their appraisals tend to be intersubjective, with each individual judgment being inuenced by
other participantsopinions. This explains why copycat experiences can, for instance, be valued very positively at a thematic level even as
consumersindividual appraisals might hightlight negative differences in terms of features.
Practical implications The battle against experience copycats does not, on the face of things, seem very useful insofar as consumers attribute
copycats a meaning that complements the way in which they view original brands. Consumers tend to neither conate nor contrast the two but
instead consider them complementary. The end result is that original brands should seek more to cohabit with these copycats than to treat them
aggressively, even as they develop a defensive posture to avoid excessive value slippage.
Social implications The study demonstrates that the battle against experience copycats becomes more difcult once participants who appreciate
and defend the imitation have developed a sense of community
Originality/value This paper focuses on copycats, a topic where very little research exists. It seeks to transcend customary economic and socio-
psychological approaches by examining deliberate lookalike uses and experiences via the ethnographic method.
Keywords Customer experience, Counterfeiting, Brand communities, Copycat, Brand experience, Pilgrimage, Feature imitation, Theme imitation
Paper type Research paper
Founded in 2011, Tough Mudder was not the rst mud raceto ever
be organised, but it was the rst to bring this kind of event to the
masses. Billing itself, not without hyperbole, as the toughest event
on the planet, was a way of emphasizing that participants should
look forward to an extraordinary experience. For seven years now,
Tough Mudder has helped transformobstacle racing from a childish
diversion to one of the fastest-growing athletic activitiesin the world.
Very quickly thereafter, however, the obstacle-racing industry
became rife with copycats. Tough Mudders success inspired a
generation of copycat mud races offering variations on the original
format. These related, for instance, to whether the scheduling should
be xed or open, if free t-shirts should be offered, etc. The locations
also spread, with sites being added in Southern Europe and new
events like the FrenchMud Day or the Mud Ninja or Muddy Buddy
events being organised in various US states. ToughMudder copycat
events are run by charities or non-prot organisations and staged by
individual volunteer fundraisers. Many of these Tough Mudder
copycats benet from a steady ow of consumers who seem to
appreciate theimitation.
As noted in the case vignette (Scott et al.,2017)
introducing this paper, extraordinary experience marketing is
aeld that has witnesse d a rapid and easy prolif eration of
copycats. Successful brand offers such as Tough Mudder
have all experienc ed this phenomenon on multiple occ asions.
It remains that lit erature on lookalik es has yet to broach t he
specic issue of experience copycats. A great deal of progress
has been made by produc t brands in understan ding and
protecting themselves from copycats (Coelho do Vale and
Verga Matos, 2015;Kelting et al.,2017;Qin et al.,2016;Van
Horen and Pieters,2012, 2017). The same can be said about
certain service and retail brands (Rosenbaum et al., 2016).
Copycats of experi ence brands, on the o ther hand whether
this involves a spor ting, cultural, tou rist or leisure acti vity
has, despite the sect ors rapid recent expansion, undergone
less investigati on (Tynan and McKechnie, 2009). The
question then becomes whether the phenomenon of
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on
Emerald Insight at: www.emeraldinsight.com/1061-0421.htm
Journal of Product & Brand Management
28/6 (2019) 720732
© Emerald Publishing Limited [ISSN 1061-0421]
[DOI 10.1108/JPBM-06-2018-1915]
Received 26 June 2018
Revised 21 October 2018
21 December 2018
Accepted 21 December 2018

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