There was a ton of buzz around the film in almost every stage of its development, from the moment the cast was announced to the the film’s first teasers (which have generated more than 380 million views.)
Three brands leveraged the excitement around the film’s release with their own content.
Condom brands Trojan and Durex, which seldom have such a clear invitation to join in such a mainstream cultural conversation, each produced videos that make fun of the popular novel.
Trojan's "50 Shades of Pleasure" is two minutes of slapstick comedy (directed by Laura Murphy of MTV's “Girl Code”) featuring a man and woman who are in therapy discussing how they have tried to use “Fifty Shades” as a guide for bondage—even though the man hasn't read the book. It has generated 3.3 million views for the brand.
In Durex's "Reality, It's Better than Fiction," Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele doppelgangers are in bed reading, when suddenly they drop the books to the floor and pull open a drawer with a Durex box inside. The tagline: “Reality, it’s better than fiction.” The campaign has garnered 14.4 million views.
The third brand to produce a parody might seem a little unexpected. In Audi's version, “Saturday Night Live” star Vanessa Bayer accosts elevator passengers with innuendo (i.e., brandishing a pair of handcuffs, she whispers, “I’m not a cop.”) The video ends as she tries to wrestle a guy’s Audi key fob from his hands, yelling “Anastasia got one.” The spot has generated 2.2. million views.
Spoofs like these are a popular creative execution. In 2014, campaigns that used some sort of parody execution together received more than 506 million views.
But more often than not, when we talk about spoofs, we are discussing how brands can benefit from parodies of their own content. In 2014, for example, Wren’s “First Kiss” and Lincoln’s campaign for the MKC featuring Matthew McConaughey saw spikes in viewership, awareness, and ultimately sales as a result of user-generated parodies.
But what we are seeing around “Fifty Shades” is an entirely different beast: brands are parodying a phenomenon to create interest in their own products. Audi is an old hand at this; its Emmy campaign, "Barely Legal Pawn," starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bryan Cranston, and Aaron Paul, was a spot-on spoof of reality television and an unobtrusive ad for its vehicles.
Finding ways to interrupt cultural conversations has become increasingly important, as media fragmentation has resulted in fewer mass media events for brands to advertise around. In fact, some brands might say that finding these opportunities –whether real-time or planned, like these “Fifty Shades of Grey” spoofs – is a necessity since those mass media events that do exist are still prohibitively expensive.
Social media, of course, makes participation in whatever “people are talking about” easier for brands than ever before. Brands can use digital channels to overshadow advertisers at big events such as the Super Bowl or Oscars, to comment on the hottest film, or to chime in on what’s happening in the world as we saw when the blizzard hit the East Coast in January. And it’s clear that given the right creative – and the right parody, in particular – those brands can capture significant consumer attention.