Beer brand BrewDog recently released its ‘Pink IPA: Beer for Girls’ – a parody product designed to highlight pay and gender inequality in the UK.

The joke was not well-received. In fact, the campaign was labelled as lazy and poorly executed, even serving to exemplify the issue of sexism in marketing rather than expose it. 

The stunt also proved how satire in marketing can be a dangerous strategy (albeit a danger that BrewDog courts).

That being said, when it does hit the spot – satire, parody, or irony can be a great way to engage consumers and create a highly memorable campaign or brand image. Here are four successful examples and the reasons why they work.

Dissolve

Marketing specifically aimed at millennials has increased massively in the past few years. Brands seem obsessed with this ‘snowflake’ generation, and more importantly, how to sell to them.

With brands guilty of perpetuating stereotypes, millennial marketing has become ripe for parody – something stock footage company Dissolve capitalised on with “This Is a Generic Millennial Ad”. 

As the narrator of the video tries every trick in the book to appeal to millennials, a continuous roll of clichéd images pop up. From speaking in workplace jargon to selfie-taking – it’s a scathing takedown of the millennial stereotype (and the brands that market to it).

While the video could have backfired – with younger viewers potentially taking offence rather than laughing along – the ad’s sense of irony is clearly conveyed. 

It also works because the ad’s content is perfectly aligned with the brand and its product. Recognising that stock photos and videos often promote stereotypes, Dissolve manages to sneakily sell them to you at the same time. 

The Onion's sponsored content

The Onion is a satirical publisher that creates deliberately surreal, ironic, or alarming content. It’s a great example of satire in its own right, however, it has also used the strategy to expand its business and transform into a full-on digital media company.

One offshoot of the Onion is Clickhole – a site that parodies clickbait websites like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Ironically, while the site lampoons social media content that is purposely designed to go viral, Clickhole is now a major player in this market too, creating social content that is consistently shared and engaged with.

Another ironic element is that – while the Onion has previously parodied sponsored content – the brand now also produces it. Onion Labs is the brand’s in-house ad agency, where it creates content for a variety of other brands including Pizza Hut and Bumble.

By mastering the art of satire, and being transparent in how it uses it, The Onion is a fine example for brands of all kinds to follow.

Zulu Alpha Kilo

Zulu Alpha Kilo is a creative agency based in Toronto. With many other creative agencies offering the same services in the same location (and often selling them in the same self-righteous way) it decided to use satire as a way to differentiate itself. 

Its website is a full-on parody of every awful agency website out there, poking fun at the ridiculous nature of the industry and how it promotes itself. From inspirational posters to fake client profiles – it’s full of sardonic humour. 

Naturally, the company ensures that visitors are not totally misled, stating that it is a parody and prompting people to get in touch with the agency’s real-life team. 

While many brands use satire in ad campaigns, this example is particularly bold. Instead of being a flash-in-the-pan marketing effort, it’s a long-lasting investment – not something that can easily be erased if it backfires.

Thankfully, Zulu’s satirical sensibilities have paid off, becoming an intrinsic part of its brand image, and serving as reassurance to clients that it doesn't take itself seriously.

Ikea

Big brands are understandably wary of satire, however, others find it hard to resist. Ikea is one brand that has used satire sporadically over the years, specifically taking aim at Apple.

In 2014, it created the ‘Power of the BookBook’ ad, which announced its new catalogue in the style of an Apple product.

More recently, Ikea took offence at Apple’s claim of being the first brand to introduce wireless charging (when the Swedish furniture brand has been selling its own version since 2015). Ikea responded with another slew of ads, this time using slogans that are overtly Apple-esqe, and even obvious rip-offs like “Link Differently”.

With both Apple and Ikea being household names, the campaign was bound to resonate with the majority of consumers, as well as generate a fair amount of buzz on social media.

Having seen success from its gently-ridiculing approach in the past, Ikea more recently jumped on the opportunity to take a shot at Balenciaga, whose Arena tote bag looks eerily similar to the brand’s famous blue bags. 

The Outnet

Much like millennials, influencers are an easy target. However, it’s not often a brand within the industry (and with a history of working with them) is the first to poke fun.

This is exactly what The Outnet did – the fashion ecommerce site owned by Net a Porter. Its short-form video series called ‘Pretty Influential’ took the form of a mockumentary, following two high-profile ‘influencers’ as they attempted to sneak behind the scenes at New York fashion week. 

The series works on a number of levels. It’s not just a tongue-in-cheek take at the world of influencer marketing, but rather, a sly nod to the double standards of fashion designers and journalists within the industry. Specifically those who criticise certain influencers, despite inviting many the most high-profile to sit front row at catwalk shows. 

Showing that fashion brands don’t always take themselves or the industry so seriously, it made for a refreshing change in a sea of samey (and serious) content. 

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 15 March, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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