Parodying your own ads: inspired, or indulgent?

Despite being referred to as "insufferable" by some consumers, AAMI's Recorder Girl ad is enjoying second and third lives in parody ads, giving the brand new reach and acceptance, which is value hard to put a price on, says Julian Smith.

A few short weeks ago, a huge backlash broke on social media over AAMI’s TV ad for roadside assistance. You know the one: a young bespectacled blonde girl keeps blowing her recorder discordantly in the back seat of the broken-down family sedan, parked on the side of a country road.

“Insufferable” was the overwhelming verdict.

Julian Smith - film communication

Responding to the outcry, AAMI issued an abject apology and restriped the sound-track. Now the young flautist’s notes have magically become melodious (though even the new melody still doesn’t sit all that comfortably in the music mix alongside a grab from the old Danke Schoen song and the “Lucky you’re with AAMI” end music sting).

AAMI then seemed to belt the hell out of this new melodious version on air, notably during the broadcast of AFL games on the Seven network. Particularly whenever a goal was scored and the live broadcast throws to an ad. Last weekend a total of 28 goals were kicked in the match I watched, so AAMI’s ad enjoyed a pretty heavy rotation.

During the broadcast of that match, a 15 second parody of this particular AAMI ad surfaced. It featured the redoubtable Mick Molloy and Seven AFL footy caller Brian Taylor mimicking the car breakdown scenario, but in the city this time (a production budget issue, I’m guessing).

After the AAMI roadside assistance girl pulls up, Mick shoots her a seductive look and croons Danke Schoen into a hand microphone, at which Taylor tells him “Get in the car!” The AFL’s go-to voice-over guy Craig Willis wraps it up by announcing in measured tones “AAMI, proud partner of Channel Seven’s AFL coverage”.

This 15 second AAMI parody was preceded some weeks ago by a similar parody, also featuring Molloy, of AAMI’s earlier ‘Llama’ TV commercial. You know the one: a vexed middle-aged couple is trapped in their crashed car in a field of menacing llamas, supposedly agitated because the wife is wearing a jumper knitted from alpaca wool.

Quick sidebar: Danke Schoen, a song from 1963, is the signature tune of the boyishly-voiced Wayne Newton, aka Mr Las Vegas, whose fame peaked sometime in the early 1970’s. But for decades, his cheesy nightclub shtick had middle America flocking to his Vegas shows in droves. They still do.

I am intrigued though as to why this particular song was chosen as a recurring musical filler for AAMI commercials, because the lyric sung by Newton immediately before the “Not very insurancey” end-line is “Save those lies, darling don’t explain“. Certainly an adventurous music choice, given the potential of that particular lyric to undermine the messaging.

My spontaneous reaction on seeing the Molloy parody though was amusement. Yep, I actually chuckled. But then I thought about that for a moment. Because despite the fact that I have been out of the advertising mainstream for some years, the legacy of a career in adland is that you can’t help instinctively analysing your reaction to TV ads that snag your attention.

Hang on, I mused… if I’m laughing, it’s because this parody has acknowledged that the original is worth disparaging. So in effect, AAMI is using its promo to mock its own ad.

Is this parodying ploy an inspired creative strategy because the promo piece prompts recall of the original, thereby giving a double-hit of AAMi awareness? Or is it a flawed strategy, because the gag in the parody promo highlights a negative aspect of the original ad? Especially given that the previous discordant version raised the ire of so many viewers?

It seems to me there’s commendable merit in the fact that AAMI obviously don’t take themselves too seriously. But then… if they don’t, why should I?

Maybe I’m overcooking the logic here. Because one thing I know about TV audiences is, they don’t think too deeply about ads. They just resent all the ones they’re forced to watch, because of the constant interruption to their evening’s viewing.

Viewers tolerate ads but rarely do they actually like them. In fact, as the rise of ad-free online subscription-based services attests, we all go to greater lengths than ever before to avoid them. The rare exceptions tend to be well-structured and intriguing story-based ads, which have a higher degree of engagement. Perhaps AAMI should have taken us further on Rhonda and Ketut’s journey.

The single greatest recurring phenomenon I experienced throughout my Advertising career was the frequent automatic assumption by marketers that audiences are just as interested in their ads as they themselves were. You gotta love the optimism, but rarely is this true. (Rhonda and Ketut’s story was an exception).

And long gone are the days when any of us seriously believed you could bore or bludgeon people into buying your product by heavy repetition. Yet it still goes on. Yet by accident or design, it still goes on (just check out any footy match broadcast)

George Bernard Shaw famously said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place“. By this he meant that too often, much effort is put into constructing a lengthy and ornate form that looks and sounds good, but ultimately lacks meaning to its audience.

Shaw could have been talking about a lot of ads. Other than contemporary styling and technology elements, by my observation there’s little structural difference to the mainstream of today’s ads to those from one, two or even three decades ago. Most still seem so overwhelmingly safe, like the bland politician who strives to be all things to all people and ends up copping criticism from everyone.

If you look at the ad content across a typical evening’s TV viewing, you can see we really haven’t come all that far. Stand-out ads are all too rare.

The world’s greatest exponent of neuro-linguistic programming, the master-motivator Tony Robbins, holds that advertising is really simple. “Make people feel good, then show them your product,” he says.

Seeing the Mick Molloy promotional parodies of AAMI’s mainstream ads made me feel good in the moment. Why? Because they acknowledged my plight in having to put up with the tedious original versions every time a goal was kicked during my footy game.

Maybe that’s all that matters. Maybe the momentary feel-good factor as the logo fills the frame for a few seconds at the end of the promo parody justifies the brave move of being so shamelessly self-referential.

Julian Smith is a writer/director at www.filmcommunication.com


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