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 13,054 times since the cover surfaced). Miss Piggy and Kermit got in on the action, raising the stakes to the #universesmosttalkedaboutcouple
It has even spurned a #vogueisdead hashtag (arguably not great for the brand, although far less successful than their choice, with only 1,364 uses).
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 horrifically long hashtag, making a reasonably over-the-top claim about a couple who is divisive at the best of times. With it Vogue does seem to be begging for people to take them on – the first to do so in such a flagrant manner – and as the old edict states “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”.
The Vogue audience has been vocal about their distaste of the cover. Even celebrity Sarah Michelle Gellar took to Twitter threatening to cancel her Vogue subscription. But in a world of drastically dwindling magazine circulations, 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 become relevant again?
To me, as to many others, the world of fashion is preposterous, so I can’t tell whether this is a move of genius or ultimately brand damaging for Vogue. 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 for sure, Vogue succeeded in creating the #worldsmosttalkedaboutmagazinecover.