Wag the dog

The virtual passenger

Duelling ads

This is insanely brilliant. AOL recently began running a series of insanely smug commercials: In one, they portray their company heads as sagely anticipating everything their customers want; in another, their customers show up to offer “some ideas to make the Internet better.” (That latter one is stupidly galling — since it’s another example of how AOL likes to keep its already clueless customers even more so, by misinforming them about what precisely the Internet is and who “runs” it, as if the people in AOL’s board room created and administer the whole thing. “Hey folks, no need go anywhere else but AOL’s flavorlessly bland canned sites. We are the Internet! Say — why don’t we go check out some Time Warner web sites?”)

Anyway. The point is, AOL rival NetZero decided to parody the ads — by hiring identical actors and setting up identical, shot-by-shot reconstructions, except with scripts that mock AOL for offering nothing more than NetZero offers, at twice the price. You can see both sets of ads, back to back, at this site here.

I have no idea if AOL will sue, or even if they can. Would this constitute fair use, because of its parodic nature? Advertising is protected speech, so I’m guessing so, but I’m not a lawyer. Anyone have a more informed opinion?

(Thanks to Techdirt for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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