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That $120,000 banana taped to a wall shows the limitations of zeitgeist-y advertising

If Burger King, Pepsi, Popeye’s, and more brands are in on the joke, is it even funny anymore?

That $120,000 banana taped to a wall shows the limitations of zeitgeist-y advertising

Last Friday, Aviation Gin and its celebrity owner Ryan Reynolds got the ad world drunk with excitement after hiring the actor from the much-maligned Peloton ad to star in a fun sequel spot.

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The booze brand and Reynolds were deservedly celebrated across social and major media for both the quality of the spot and the speed and agility with which it was executed, soon enough to ride the wave of Peloton-bashing and land an incredibly good comeback. “If you’re going to do something like this,” Reynolds told The New York Times, “you have to jump on the zeitgeist-y moment as it happens.”

Around the same time that Peloton’s marketing department began hiding under their desks last week, another moment in pop culture occurred, this time at Art Basel in Miami where artist Maurizio Cattelan was amassing headlines and WTFs when his piece called “Comedian”—a banana duct-taped to the wall—sold for $120,000. The subsequent outrage and amusement of course quickly caught the eye of the world’s social-media marketers, sparking a rush of brands scrambling to make their own witty version.

There was Pepsi.

And Popeye’s.

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And Burger King.

And French supermarket Carrefour.

Avec nos produits bio, l’art culinaire est à portée de tous.

Posted by Carrefour on Monday, December 9, 2019

And even the Royal Canadian Mint.

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Between Peloton and “Comedian,” last week presented two moments seemingly perfect for the kind of participation that brands crave on social media, and yet each also illustrates the level of difficulty in actually pulling off something that is a) actually any good, and b) able to grab people’s attention.

With Peloton, Aviation was the only brand to go all in and create an entire ad, manage to hire the same actor, and create a spot that hit the bullseye on what so many people saw wrong with the exercise brand’s original spot.

The banana taped to a wall? Not so much. While still a fun situation, this was the sort of low-hanging . . . ahem . . . fruit that seemed to beg any brand with access to a white wall and some duct tape to have a take on it. While undoubtedly worth a shot to get a cheap chuckle from their audiences, the more brands that piled on, the less effective (and funny) each new gag became.

This quick dilution highlights a universal truth about social meme-based marketing: If you’re not first, you’re last.

As much as Aviation won the week, even it couldn’t resist.

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Of course, here Aviation is aiming to ride the taped banana wave by making fun of the taped banana wave, but ultimately this shows that even brands that get it incredibly right can still swing at a joke that’s, frankly, overripe.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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