The rise of social parody


B&T recently published an article by me about the phenomenon of social media parody. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below: 


Charles Caleb Colton once said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery”. But what would he say about parody? Parody is imitation for comedic effect and by its nature is not supposed to be flattering.

When the Kimye Vogue cover hit the stands several weeks ago it took mere hours for the first parodies to hit the net. James Franco posted this image on his Instagram, building his and Seth Rogan’s body of uncomfortably accurate replications of the #worldsmosttalkedaboutcouple (a hashtag which has been used over 13,054 times since the cover surfaced). Miss Piggy and Kermit got in on the action, raising the stakes to the #universesmosttalkedaboutcouple.

This comes merely weeks after the ‘First Kiss’ video, which following a brief period of breathless appreciation and wonder, quickly descended into parody central. “First Handjob” “First Sh*t” “First Lick” “Fart Kiss” “First Sandwich” “First Raspberry” (the list goes on) all appeared within an astoundingly short period of time. Playboy got in on the number and Mother did a very endearing “First Sniff” using dogs (the animals that happen to also be on their crest).

Wren, the label behind “First Kiss”, was astounded at the response – they normally launch their new collections with unbranded video content, like this dreamy piece starring Tavi Gevinson – and was both excited and perplexed as to why this particular piece of content had resonated with the internet so much.

The parody phenomenon isn’t new. From ‘Get Shitter’ (the site which turns your twitter feed into toilet paper) to Google Naps (a useful parody allows you to find the best napping places near you) – which adorably pleads Larry and Sergey to “please don’t be mad this is just a joke, a parody. We don’t mean to damage your brand or anything, we just want to bring a smile on the faces of Google fans” – parody seems to be everywhere.

Is a work of parody a sign of distaste for the original or is it the true measure of success? If a piece of content is uploaded to YouTube and no one is around to take the piss out of it, is it really effective?

The Vogue cover almost seems cleverly composed to invite parody – that  long hashtag, making a claim about a couple who is divisive at the best of times. With it Vogue does even seem to be inviting  people to take them on.

Some Vogue readers have been vocal about their dislike of the cover, others seem to love it. But magazine circulations are under pressure and really, is appealing to the mass population through a slightly controversial piece of content that may take on a second life of its own across the social web, such a bad way to be relevant?

To me, as to many others, the world of fashion is an unknown, so I can’t tell whether this is a move of genius or not. What I can say is that capturing the public’s interest to such an extent as to motivate them to create their own version of your content (even if it is poking fun) is a measure of much deeper engagement and a signifier of strong brand cut through.

It does beg the question whether parody baiting – creating content in order to invite a reaction – will become a trend. Audiences catch on fast when authenticity is lost from the original content and “First Kiss” would not have been so highly copied had it not been an authentic piece of content to start with.

Perhaps it is too soon to call parody the new benchmark for social success. What does seem to be at the heart of the parody phenomenon is content that strikes a chord with audiences and drives the impulse to share some version of it with their social networks. This is essentially the key to social media success – tap into real human emotion and create something that people want to talk about and share with others.

So whether it’s a flash in the pan or a new industry movement, Vogue succeeded in doing just that. As we wait to see where the parody phenomenon heads from here, one thing is sure, Vogue succeeded in creating the #worldsmosttalkedaboutmagazinecover.