By The Drum, Administrator

April 3, 2008 | 6 min read

From the surreal to the cereal

Whether they’re merely humouring the national press and it’s a tongue-in-cheek PR exercise, or a genuine threat, the ad’s resemblance to The Boosh’s act has stoked the old debate about whether anything is sacred from appearing in advertising.

Crimping is a short, sharp singing technique which meanders from one surreal lyric to the next. It’s a staple of The Boosh’s BBC show and it is, says Propaganda’s creative director Lu Dixon, clearly in evidence in the new Sugar Puffs commercial: “I’m not even a big fan of The Mighty Boosh and yet recognised it as soon as I saw the ad.”

The agency behind it, Bray Leino, and Sugar Puffs’ owners HM Foods, have so far remained silent. Mercifully, Honey Monster himself has been less reserved. On his official blog at the HM Foods website, he reports: “My new ad has been getting loads of people talking and I’ve had lots of emails, calls and seen some blogs. Some people like our song, but it hasn’t made everybody happy so I’m a bit sad about that.”

Honey Monster is a perceptive chap. The ad has garnered well over a thousand comments on YouTube, most from irate fans of The Mighty Boosh articulating their disapproval. But isn’t advertising all about trends, and reflecting what’s prescient in popular culture?

Zeitgeist

Dixon says there’s a fine line: “Yes you can take cues from popular culture; part of advertising is trying to tap into the zeitgeist, but blatantly copying could be devaluing to the original. Who says The Mighty Boosh, who seem to have a strict idea of their own brand, want to be associated with Sugar Puffs anyway?”

Creative directors generally agree that there’s a moral (and – potentially – legal) obligation to seeking permission for their ads which pastiche or heavily reference other sources. Different’s Chris Rickaby says his agency used a song they’d spotted on the internet for a Ross’s Pickles ad. “The guy who created it was an American children’s entertainer, he’d probably never have seen the ad, but we still asked for his permission because we felt obliged.” Crucially, perhaps, he was also paid by the agency.

Despite this, Rickaby says he likes the Sugar Puffs ad. “It will go down well with kids,” he says. “It’s obvious the people who created the ad are fans of The Mighty Boosh and that the ‘crimp’ singing on the show inspired the ad, but I don’t think The Boosh will be able to successfully copyright a style of singing, otherwise the first Nashville hick to sing Country and Western style would have made a fortune suing Hank Williams and Dolly Parton. Neither will the man who invented rap be able to sue The Boosh for basing their own crimp style on his original idea.”

Iris Manchester’s Pete Armstrong agrees that the honourable thing to do would have been to seek The Boosh’s involvement in the first instance. “For all we know they may have done just that and encountered a stroppy agent who wouldn’t lower the integrity of the act for some fast bucks. But if they weren’t up for it, you need to be canny enough to make the ad a little less plagiaristic. Unless of course this kind of PR was in the plan all along.

“After all crimping is just another form of rapping. Call it what you will, Fab Five Freddy knew he was getting mainstream exposure when Blondie “borrowed” his rapping style on Rapture. Okay, so the Honey Monster doesn’t have the same kudos but you get my point.”

The ad might have been a little more palatable for its detractors had it been an overt spoof of the show, Poulters’ David Bell suggests. “The problem if you don’t flag it as an obvious pastiche is that it’s never going to top the original,” he says. “In the eyes of the show’s fans, who are obviously precious about it, it’s never going to be done as well as The Mighty Boosh.”

There’s little doubt that advertising, at times, owes a due to popular culture. Bell points to Fallon’s recent plasticine bunny ad for Sony Bravia which was accused of ripping off LA artists Kozyndan. But what of it, says Nick Galanides of Cogent Elliott. “I’m probably talking out of my arse here legally, but I’ve got no problem with taking things from popular culture.

Bo’ Selecta

“Everything is open to plagiarism. Popular culture itself is the best example of how few new ideas there are, things just go round in cycles. You only have to listen to the Beatles’ influence in Oasis to note that.”

Galanides’ point is given credence by popular culture’s own debt to advertising. In February, contemporary artist Tracy Emin was accused of lifting from an E.ON ad for her statues of four meerkats in Trafalgar Square. A few years ago, Lu Dixon had an AA ad spoofed by Channel 4 comic Avid Merrion. “He took the piss out of it in his show in full Craig David Bo’ Selecta outfit,” she says. Did he ask permission? “No.”

Galanides ultimately feels the storm in a teacup (or should that be breakfast bowl?) over the Sugar Puffs ad is an example of good PR: “It’s got people talking about the product and The Mighty Boosh. I mean, the original story saying they were taking action appeared in a tabloid so you have to take it with a pinch of salt anyway.”

Armstrong saw The Mighty Boosh over ten years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, and says having taken so long to hone their act, he can understand if they feel affronted that Sugar Puffs are profiting from their ‘art’. But is this going to harm The Mighty Boosh’s career? Armstrong doesn’t think so.

Instead, he says the best action the show’s creators could take now is to get its own back. “If I were them I’d turn this into a positive and spoof the ad right back at the earliest possible opportunity. You want to get your own back on the corporate monster? Then the best way to do it is on your own terms and if the agency and client are smart or witty enough to go ahead with The Mighty Boosh then let battle commence.”

Bray Leino the Mightyboosh Sugar Puffs

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