PERSPECTIVE: Spoofs - a parody too far or cut-through in a crowded market?

Last December I had a sneak review of Bartle Bogle Hegarty's brilliant Levi's commercial "Odyssey".

Little did I know that the ad's debut weeks later would be the signal for the industry to turn what was once a simple stock-in-trade device, the spoof ad, into the new advertising black.

Call up for "Odyssey from your agency library and you're now likely to get sent seven tapes, all pastiches of the much honoured commercial.

Take your pick from Sky Sports, Lilt, Cartoon Network, the Ant and Dec opening credits for Saturday Night Takeaway, a trailer for HMV's Classical Chillout album, a spot for the Italian post-production house Mercurio productions and a skit in France's equivalent of Spitting Image.

In recent years the spoofing craze has revealed its cross-media credentials - take Euro RSCG's press ad for Kaliber that mimicked TBWA's "Hello boys for Wonderbra. Feature films have also been the butt for agency jokes - take the parody of Citizen Kane in a corporate epic for Hanson by Lowe.

Even idents have not escaped the treatment: Young & Rubicam and Del Monte followed Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters and Pizza Hut in sending up on-screen idents for Carlton and BBC2, respectively.

You think this situation only exists in advertising? Think again. Think music cover versions. Think films. Think Merchant Ivory. Imagine sending somebody out to Blockbuster for the film where Helena Bonham Carter plays a Victorian neurotic, or where Antony Hopkins plays a repressed Brit.

It's like asking for the film where Sylvester Stallone plays a super-patriotic moron on steroids.

The question is whether spoofing in commercials matters and whether it works. From sceptics, the genre draws allegations of narcissism, hubris and plagiarism. There is also the risk of backfiring: you cannot process any of the "Odyssey spoofs without reference to the original and the danger is that they mask the hijacking brand.

But for fans, like me, a good spoof offers a unique opportunity for audience contact - one that ostensibly rests on humour but which can also pack a hefty punch. Funnily enough, BBH has been high up the field in poking fun at whole genres - it lampooned the washing powder ads years ago for Cadbury's Picnic and aped the 70s Walls Cornetto classic O Sole Mio for Boddingtons.

Though the absolute proof of spoof power may be hard to come by, I guess the ultimate argument rests on the public's continuing approval of and liking for good ads and the fact that this has much to do with messages that are tongue in cheek and witty. So the advice for would-be spoofers is obvious: only choose high-profile originals and then be meticulous in the mimicry. Hmmm ... perhaps the real issue here is the shortage of top quality material in the first place?

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