Brand Parodies: To Embrace or Not to Embrace Jokes About Your Company?

Ah, brand parodies. We’ve all seen them and enjoyed them when they’re about someone else, but what happens when people are laughing at you instead of laughing with you?

The way I see it, brands have two options when a parody comes along. They can either: A) embrace it with open arms (which includes feedback and acknowledgement) or B) take offense and fight back somehow.

Which option is better for addressing spoofs? That depends on your prerogative. Option A makes you seem more amiable, but it could also open you up to further parodies. Option B makes you seem humorless, but it may deter additional ridicule.

Bring on the examples!

Let’s look at an example of Option B (anti-parodies) first: Apple.

Ellen, a comedienne, couldn't even get away with an Apple parody.

Ellen, a comedienne, couldn’t even get away with an Apple parody.

I don’t have to tell you how adamant Apple is about preserving their brand’s integrity. You’ve likely seen them in the news for various patent lawsuits — there have been a handful of them in 2012 alone — and they’re not shy about going after people who poke fun at their products or services, either.

Ellen DeGeneres’ Apple parody back in 2010 is an example of taking offense to the extreme. Ellen, a comedienne and TV personality, has expressed her opinions and joked about people and companies on numerous occasions without much trouble. So when she posted a parody commercial of herself awkwardly trying to use her Apple iPhone in an attempt at playful humor, Apple got upset and claimed that Ellen was falsely making the phone seem hard to use. The result? They asked her to issue a public apology about the parody, which seemed more like a blatant ad for Apple than anything else.


Now, I completely understand Apple’s desire to ward off negative comments, but it’s downright silly to expect public apologies for stating an opinion. Ellen’s fake ad wasn’t likely to deter iPhone sales or reflect poorly on the company in any way, but they freaked out and made themselves look silly in the process. I love Apple products, but I don’t appreciate being told that I have to love them or else face their terrifying wrath! Their aggressive approach isn’t the one I’d have chosen to take (but then again, I’m not running a multi-billion-dollar-a-year Fortune 500 company that’s likely to survive an apocalypse).

And second, here’s an example of Option A (pro-parodies): Mentos.

Mentos parodies are numerous and witty!

Mentos parodies are numerous and witty!

Mentos is the first brand that comes to mind when I think of parodies. There have been numerous Mentos spoofs over the years, from bizarre to hilarious, and the Canadian mint company always seems to benefit from them.

Two of the best Mentos parodies – the Foo Fighters’ 1995 video for “Big Me” and the most recent “Breaking Bad” spoof – are funny because they’re creative and they don’t make fun of the product itself. Instead, they use the song and commercial style as a jumping-off point.

Although I can’t make the claim that Mentos fully supports these parodies (they didn’t respond to my inquiry on the subject), they’ve never outwardly opposed them or forced people to remove them altogether. That’s a good sign, I’d say. If they were anti-parody to the extent of Apple, then we would have heard about it by now.

From logo parodies to commercial parodies, there’s no shortage of hilarity as far as brands go. Even social media has its fair share of parody accounts. People have poked fun at music videos with shot-for-shot parodies, sarcastically narrated over existing brand commercials, and Tweeted under the name of a celebrity or brand. These users are supposed to disclose that they’re parodies, however, so there’s no brand confusion between the legitimate person/company and the one cracking the jokes.

Quick takeaways about brand parodies and spoofs:

  • Don’t fly off the handle about a parody without assessing the entire situation first. If someone posts a spoof of one of your commercials and it infringes on your copyright or has potential to obliterate your reputation, then perhaps it’s necessary to take action. However, if the spoof seems to be all in good fun, then you’ll probably be better off embracing it and/or letting it go. You’ll draw more attention to it by throwing a temper tantrum about a joke.
  • Do have a sense of humor about your company and its products and services. Nobody’s perfect (not even you, Apple) and there are bound to be missteps when you put your brand name out there in a public fashion. Roll with the punches and you’ll gain more positive publicity than anything else. For an example of kind-heartedness, check out a fairly recent public response by Jack Daniel’s whiskey about questionable copyright. They only gained from that debacle because they handled it so well!

Disclaimer: When I use the word parody, I’m referring to jokes that are acceptable under the Parody Fair Use Act. If someone is bashing your good name for a completely unjustified reason, or if they’ve seriously infringed on your trademarks, then a different course of action may be needed.

What would you do if faced with a parody of your brand? Do you agree that taking offense to the extreme is a bad move? What’s your favorite parody of all time?

Image credit to ronpaulrevolt2008 and quinn.anya.

Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.


  1. Jenna Markowski

    Interesting post, Jill! This is something I haven’t really thought about much before, but I definitely think brands who can take a joke come out on top. Based solely on your two examples, Apple certainly looks silly and childish. They could learn from the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And they could also add, “And also, we’re so rich and swimming in buckets of money so who really cares what anyone says?” Sheesh!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Jenna! I was pretty shocked by the Apple controversy as well. Come on…it’s a freakin’ parody! Nothing Ellen could have done would have damaged their brand, and it would have slipped through the cracks eventually. But they chose to draw attention to it, which brought it even more into the spotlight. So silly!

  2. Amy Swanson

    I didn’t know about the Apple parody Ellen did, that’s news to me! I’m not surprised by Apple’s reaction though, for having such cool products they are a bit uptight and stodgy in some regards.

    Great post, Jill!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thank you, Amy! Apple seriously needs to lighten up. I don’t think they should roll over anytime someone threatens their copyright, but I also don’t think they should put up their fists anytime someone mentions one of their products in a non-glowing way.

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    Oh, Apple. News flash, nobody is surprised when you throw a temper tantrum.

    I think that they (might) have gotten better with handling parodies. When they released those Zooey Deschanel and Samuel Jackson iPhone commercials earlier this year, a whole bunch of parodies followed. I didn’t hear anything about Apple going after them.

    Then again, they could’ve done it quietly.

  4. Rachel

    Great article, Jill! Parodies, at least from a consumer’s perspective, can be lots of fun, and can actually bring positive attention to the brand when done right. I’m thinking of all the parody music videos of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” that have popped up in recent months. I had not heard of these songs until I watched some of the parodies online, and at least in Gotye’s case, it led to me eventually checking out the artist and buying some of their music. I’m not sure where these spoofs fall in the Parody Fair Use Act, but I hope they’re kosher, because they’re awesome! 🙂

  5. Eric

    Companies that show a sense of humor become so, so much more likable to the public than say, fruit-named companies which shall remain nameless. So when I hear Mr. Fruit Company is demanding public apologies in response to harmless sketch comedy…I begin thinking they’re growing very insecure. And I don’t like it.

    In completely unrelated news, I don’t own any fruit-logo’ed electronics…

    …but my phone is a Samsung. 🙂

    Great post, Jill!

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