One of the greatest challenges of marketing is the first burst – grabbing someone’s attention and diverting it from competing media, devices and distractions.
Some advertisers and marketers use piggybacking (not an official term) to cut through the noise. Either by slyly hinting at another product, or by working in tandem with them, they use another familiar brand name to build their own.
Here are a few of our favourite piggyback campaigns, ranging from the creative, to meta to entertaining…
SpongeBob Squarepants – Fifty Shades of Grey
This is a piece of bizarre marketing genius. Around the same time that SpongeBob: Sponge out of Water was due to appear in cinemas, another high-profile film was ramping up its marketing campaign: Fifty Shades of Grey.
“Mr. Squarepants will see you now.”
You might remember the teaser posters for Grey: The enigmatic title character stands with his back to the camera, staring contemplatively at Manhattan from his luxury, high-rise office.
The SpongeBob poster copied the same format, right down to the crisp black and white aesthetic, but the recognisable SpongeBob silhouette brings some welcome goofiness. It does everything right: The ad builds awareness, it raises a cheeky smile among knowing adults, while remaining very safe for its young target audience.
As you might remember, Back to the Future Part II featured Marty time-travelling from 1985 to 2015. Nike had product placement in the original film, with futuristic trainers.
When 2015 arrived in real life, Nike replicated the trainers from the old film and made a short skit featuring comic Bill Hader, basketball star Kevin Durant and Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd.
This video was funny, fast-paced and peppered with knowing nods to the film franchise. Unsurprisingly, it was a viral hit.
“How can I handle work on a day like today?” Matthew Broderick asks, in a nod to one of his most famous roles.
What follows is an ad for Honda that plays out like a belated sequel to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This time it’s Broderick who’s ducking out of work, instead of Ferris skipping school.
A Ferris sequel could have great seriocomic potential, which isn’t fulfilled here. Honda is more interested in nostalgia and callbacks, but it’s still a fun, effective use of a familiar character.
“From the brother of the director of Ghost…”
The Zucker Brothers were responsible for many of our favourite spoof films, from Airplane! to The Naked Gun. But they parted ways professionally in the ‘90s, with one brother sticking with comedy and the other directing dramas like Ghost and First Knight.
This little back-story led to a weird, knowing and very amusing trailer for The Naked Gun 22 ½. Instead of showing footage from the film, it was a small, self-contained Ghost spoof, using the sibling connection as a selling point.
Incidentally, The Naked Gun franchise also had one of our favourite film taglines: “If you only see one movie this year…you should get out more!”
While the above examples are light and entertaining, even throwaway, piggybacking walks a fine line. It can’t let the original inspiration eclipse the new product, and selling points must be smuggled into the narrative. And that’s before even getting into the legal quagmire of using other products and brands.
Content is different from ad copy, but many of the same principles apply: knowledge of an audience; creative, shareable content; and the soft sell.
If you’d like to talk about content, marketing, or anything to do with content marketing, do feel free to get in touch.