CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/PARODY ADS - Parodies of ads can create awareness quickly if done well, Matthew Cowen says

It seems to be open season on advertising parodies this month, with

Newcastle Brown Ale and the Dyslexia Society weighing in with spoofs of

two of the UK's most high-profile recent campaigns.

The two pastiches add to a growing, but rarely remarked on, body of

agency work. Ever since the mid-80s, when Carling Black Label scored a

bullseye on Levi Strauss' laundrette ad and followed it up with a

classic take on Old Spice's surfer spot, it's been clear that a

well-judged spoof can put a brand on the public's lips quicker than

months of more original ads.

That's certainly been the case with Scottish Courage's relaunch of

Newcastle Brown Ale - which used a burly drinker spreadeagled on his

back in a spoof of Yves Saint Laurent's banned Sophie Dahl ad. The

poster has racked up its fair share of column inches in the past couple

of weeks, as has the Dyslexia Society execution - which uses Trevor

Beattie's fcuk work to highlight the condition.

However, the attitude in adland toward parody commercials remains


Creatives seem acutely aware that such work can look like indulgent

navel-gazing - which is arguably exactly what it is.

"At Lowe Lintas & Partners we were loath to do it as a general

principle," Charles Inge, the agency's former creative director and now

a founding partner at Clemmow Hornby Inge, says. "It's quite an easy

thing to do, it seems cheap and the danger is that it becomes a joke

within advertising."

Inge himself oversaw the Lowe-produced Peperami posters that spoofed the

publicity campaign for the Anthony Hopkins movie Hannibal this year.

However, he argues that the film's hype had moved its advertising

campaign into the public domain, making the joke instantly accessible to


"For a product with a tiny budget, it was an opportunity to hijack the

promotion of the film and make a big impact," he says.

Both Scottish Courage's and the Dyslexia Society's ads seem to meet

Inge's criteria. Their targets have had a genuine, wide-ranging cultural

impact that has set tongues wagging outside the borders of adland - one

for being banned, the other for somehow avoiding it. As such they are a

perfect choice for parody. The clients in question are also unlikely to

object to the extra exposure brought by the news coverage.

Advertising Standards Authority rules dictate that no ad should so

closely resemble another that it misleads and causes confusion for the


The regulations also forbid the misuse of another organisation's

goodwill as regards its brand or advertising.

Similar clauses regarding TV and cinema work have seen various ad

spoofs, targeted at rival brands, snuffed out before they ever reached

the airwaves.

A spot for EB Pils by Kunde & Co parodied Guinness' "surfer" ad with a

group of unshapely lads paddling lilos around Southend harbour, but

never made it on to cinema screens. Likewise, a Heineken ad showing a

group of black men laughing at a "whassup?" spoof - and then ordering

Heineken - never saw the light of network TV.

The arrival of the internet and viral campaigns raises the possibility

of parodies achieving a greater circulation by circumventing the tighter

regulations of traditional media.

But agencies itching to have a go at their rivals' campaigns should bear

Inge's advice in mind. If your spoof is too clever by half, then you

could end up laughing alone.