Attack of the Mutant Ads

If you have a video camera (whether on your smartphone or other mobile device) and a way to upload video to the internet – like, say, on your smartphone or other mobile device – then you can produce your own mutant ads. Who would bother to make these fake commercials, which poke fun, mock, criticize, or even praise, a product or company that is not their own? Lots of people.
Mutant ads, as they are known, are on the rise.

Mutant ads don’t have to be negative – but they often are. Take this ad, which mocks Starbucks. A young woman is talking about how much she loves Frappuccinos. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a Frappuccino on a hot summer day.” Then, “A Frappuccino just costs so darn much. How much? Well, enough to feed a child in a Sudanese refugee camp for a week.” Drink up.

But there is also a very popular mutant add that is complimentary of Starbucks. It features no less than two minutes of very intense, and very contagious, yawning by five men in a VW bus. Things are looking dire when suddenly, all is well. Everyone is awake, and everyone is sipping from a Starbucks cup.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Simon Fraser University has found that mutant ads are increasing in number and in popularity. SFU’s Leyland Pitt says, “The consequences, I think, are quite profound. Brand managers have lost control of the brand in this environment.” And this can be as dangerous to the brand as it is scary for the brand manager. The first Starbucks commercial mocks the famous coffee chain, but also consumers who are willing to spend absurd amounts of money there.

On the positive side, these videos, which can see hundreds of thousands of views, often spur a great amount of commentary by viewers, many of whom defend the brand. Some, like the second Starbucks video, are “mocking” but ultimately positive for the brand.

So what is a brand to do? If you are still small, then take advantage of the publicity! In any case, you cannot take over and try to tell viewers what to think about these videos. Pitt says, “The best thing companies can do is try to abdicate control of the brand and allow the conversation to happen…You’ve almost got to be invited to be part of the conversation.”

This is a drastically different marketing model than any we have ever seen, but it is one that shows no sign of abating as social media plays an increasingly prominent role in advertising and business. Become part of the conversation; the best way to deal with mock ads is with a sense of humor – and a good counterattack plan.

Leave a Comment