Of ethics and copying and the breakdown of rules

Have you noticed the new ads for NetZero? They’re a carbon copy of the recent AOL “customers” campaign that AOL used to tell its users that they’re listening to what the customers are telling them (right). Netzero hired the same actors, used the same sets, and shot-for-shot re-did the campaign, only this time telling AOL customers that NetZero is the same for less money. It’s quite a hilarious spoof. Adrants’ Steve Hall adds…

It’s both a smart and questionable strategy. Leveraging AOL’s much larger media budget, NetZero hopes to broaden awareness of its own campaign by association. But, many viewers may simply confuse the two spots not realizing who the advertiser is or simply remember AOL because it is more ubiquitous. It’s very funny though, but the proof will be in the number of $9.95 sign ups NetZero gets.
So now an advertiser can copy a competitor’s creative (down to the edit). Which will be nominated for the Addy award, the original or the spoof? All’s fair on TV.

Just ask Peggy Phillip, news director of WMC-TV in Memphis. When her competitor promoted a sweeps’ series about crime statistics by zipcode, she decided to copy it. Each day, the competitor announced what zipcode they’d be studying the next day. Peggy dispatched a crew at that point to do identical stories.

“It’s called muddying the waters,” she told the local paper. “If you think somebody’s got something good, or something that might resonate, you try to take it away, or muddy the waters so people don’t remember where they saw it.”
Peggy’s logic is terribly smart, because news images and brands are largely based on recollection. Why let a competitor get away with it, if you can do something about it? So-called “blocking moves” occur every day in competitive business environments. They’re just more visible on TV.

There are those who are critical of Peggy, and there are those who’ll cry “foul” about NetZero’s hilarious spoofs. “It’s unethical.” “It’s against the rules.”

What ethics? What rules? Those of the AOLs of the world?

We’re at a time in human history where such things are being challenged as never before, and those who are crying the loudest are those who sense their fatted calves being whacked. The energy of Postmodernism flows from the failures of Modernism and its institutions. One of its greatest failures is the promulgation of a vast laziness born of the illusion that there is a time and place when we have it made.

We don’t and we never will. And one of the beauties of Postmodernism is its recognition that that’s okay.

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