ON PARODY – in life and in marketing
The unfolding events in Paris – where 12 are left dead at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the Kalashnikov-touting assailants are still on the loose – prompt consideration of the essential role of parody in our public discourse, and the exciting tone that parody can represent for those of us in the marketing community.
Parody is the conversation of adults. It entertains with wit, whilst investigating and unearthing the truth of things. It is, ultimately, a tool to uncover and share insight. To be the object of parody is a signifier in of itself; proof-positive that what you are doing is being noticed.
In November 2013, Charlie Hebdo ran a cover cartoon in the wake of extremist threats on journalists who used satire as their stock-in-trade. The cartoon’s by-line is profound: ‘The press is in good shape; it can still stir up fools’. Indeed.
Parody teases. It digs at the truth, often inspired by love and respect as much as ire.
Recall Apple’s launches of the iPhones 5 & 6. Jony Ive’s self-important tone pitching the iPhone as the most important thing in anyone’s life was ripe for parody – and satire ensued. It is easy to detect, within the lines of the amusing send-up videos, the presence of deep respect for Apple, alongside a calling out of its indulgence. Parody is a conversation amongst the initiated. It keeps us honest, and allows us to love something without fully drinking the Kool Aid.
One of the most successful media launches in Ireland of recent years, The Waterford Whispers News, has parody as its core motif. Through playing with convention, it manages to pack a punch and call to account the ridiculous and outrageous for the way in which they act: ridiculously and outrageously.
As a fan of the hit podcast Serial, I am struck by how much I am also engaged by the parodies of Sarah Koenig’s trademark style of conversational journalism – at once over-serious, self-deprecating, chatty and anal. These help explain how good Serial actually is, as well as to snarl at the trouser leg of its own self-importance. Parody provides a balancing role. In nailing what’s OTT, it serves to bring us to a more insightful understanding of how Serial fits. True, Koenig herself has declared some of the parodies to be ‘mean’, but ‘mean’ does not mean wrong.
Indeed, parody is an underplayed and exciting new tone for brands to play within – and maybe especially for brands to listen to, as consumers find their voices and are heard. Marketing has for too long existed in a bubble of controlled communication; as if what we assert must be true if we say it often enough. Social media has made such one-way ideology unworkable. Comment will be made, and must be attended to.
Taking a pop at competitors is a much-loved part of American advertising communication which is only now finding its equal this side of the Pond. I am particularly charmed by Lidl’s poking fun at Morrisons, in their underwhelming attempt to match Lidl prices. Parody is never cynicism. Rather, it is purposeful fun, temporarily at another’s expense. Within parody is an invitation to respond – and an expectation that the checks and balances go both ways. As a mature conversation, it becomes an amusing form of self-regulation.
The terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo today, inspired by the magazine’s satirical comment on religious extremism, is ultimately a vile and tragic act of immaturity, dressed up as political courage and quasi-religious bravery.
Parody does not signal a lack of respect. Rather, it highlights a difference of opinion in service of deeper understanding. We are fools when we fail to see the difference.
Brian McIntyre. 2015.