Comedy in advertising – why use parody?

2006 Lynx 'Billions' TV commercial

2006 Lynx 'Billions' TV commercial

Advertising often uses humour to attract the attention of the consumer, hold their interest and improve recall – parody is one such comedic device.  As well as gaining attention parodying can allow brands to associate themselves with the positioning and buzz of their chosen parody subject. An idea that has already infiltrated the mind of the public has media currency. However, campaigns that use parody must be clever and original enough to impress their audiences. The original needs to be subverted in some way or it looks as though the parody is merely jumping on the prestige of the original, not adding value or anything new. To use parody effectively it must fit the brand’s established tone, heritage and background. A well-executed parody allows a brand to build on its own reputation of being witty and edgy. It also makes the brand look current and responsive.

Many advertising campaigns that use parody find inspiration not from an existing advertisement but from a particular genre, format or style. For example; parodies of rap music videos in recent Yeo Valley campaigns and Star Wars films in Curry’s commercials. Even Lorraine Chase, ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here 2011’, starred in an advertising campaign for Campari in 1979 that was a parody of the iconic film ‘Casablanca’.

2010 Specsavers 'Billions' TV commercial

2010 Specsavers 'Billions' TV commercial

When using parody in advertising the parody must be obvious and the original needs to be popular, well-liked and respected. Also, for the parody to work, the original and the parody version may need to share a similar target audience or the inter-textual references being made may go unrecognised. A parody borrows credos and cool from the original so the original needs to be acknowledged by the audience. It is then the use of juxtaposition and contrast in the parody that creates new meaning.

The potential to go viral

A parody also has great viral potential (or ‘trending topic’ on Twitter), allowing it to be shared by consumers therefore letting word-of-mouth add to the hype for the brand. These types of campaigns also invite audience participation and co-creation, inviting consumers to create their own material (as in a recent political campaign for the Liberal Democrats that used a ‘Labservative’ website asking people to post their own ‘mashed up’ images of Conservative and Labour party members). All of this taps into the wider trend of communicating with audiences via online communities and social media networks.

Ideas for classroom use

  • Ask your students to list the advantages and disadvantages of using ‘parody’ in advertising campaigns
  • Using the examples given and others researched ask students why the advertising agency responsible for the parody version chose that particular ad to parody? What qualities were they hoping to ‘borrow’ from the original campaign, product and appeal to its target audience?
  • Many advertising campaigns that use parody find inspiration not from an existing advertisement but from a particular genre, format or style. Get students to think about how parodies have used the generic codes and conventions of the original to communicate a message about the brand
  • One of the dangers of parodying is not being able to say something new or unique about your product. Ask students if the parody ad in each of the examples given successfully conveys a specific brand message or does the parody override it? If so, how does it still manage to do this and if not, why not?
  • Is a parody advertising campaign just a case of an advertising agency ‘running out of original ideas’ or is there more to it than that? Ask students to think about why agencies so often use parody when creating campaign material. Get them to list brands that they think have the right tone, heritage and background to use parody as a marketing tool – ask them to research past and present ad campaigns for these brands, were they right?
  • Get students to create their own viral parody advertising campaign that inspires crowd-sourcing and user-generated content. Make sure they can explain why they chose this particular campaign and what they hope the original brings to their campaign material. Remember: The creative idea development process should begin with the brand message, the idea of parody should come as secondary
  • Set students the task to create a public awareness campaign using parody i.e. for ‘Anti-drink driving’

Access to Classroom Resources

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