The Epic Split and its Epic Parodies

19th century English writer, Charles Caleb Colton, said in the text Lacon, Or, Many Things in a Few Words: Addressed to Those who Think, Volume 1: “imitation is the sincerest of flattery.” This has become a present day cliché with many innovators falling victim to having had work replicated. If this has happened to you, you’ll know it either inflates your ego or ire.

Fashion is one of the longest standing industries to suffer the scourge of replication with knock-offs of high end designs flooding the market. Fashion god Tom Ford, former Creative Director at Gucci and YSL, famously asserted that replicas don’t affect the business of high end designer brands as they target different market segments. But, I’d like to posit that replicas can contribute to a fashion house’s brand equity – if it’s hot and pricey, why not knock it off for those who cannot afford it. This definitely affirms Colton’s assertion that compliment is found in plagiarism. Is anything really original anyway?

Fast forward a century later, to the information age where consumers and brands alike all have equal power to create content in glo-cal (global + local) platforms. In this age, consumers group into tribes (a la Seth Godin) and communities with affinities to movements, interests and passions thanks to the empowering nature of social media. Tribes that form around brands have appointed themselves brand ambassadors, pushing engagement around the brands they love.

Tribes have also formed around celebrity personalities, like Lady Gaga’s monsters, Adam Lambert’s glamberts and Beyonce’s beyhive. The Internet in itself is a mega-tribe, an amalgamation of groups of consumers to whom this democratic media space is at their disposal. It is predominantly to this mega-hyper-connected tribe that brands want their content to go viral.

When a phenomenon hits the internet, people gobble it up and in no time becomes a meme. It is shared, commented on, written about and even spills onto traditional media. The most interesting engagement of all is when people make their own version of the phenomena (parodies/ spoofs), especially if it’s video content. It a nutshell parodies are really, to borrow from Colton, a flattery of sorts.

2013 ended on a good note for Volvo, given the traction its latest ad campaign garnered online. The brand campaign showcases the precision steering features of Volvo’s latest FM trucks. Starring action-movie actor, Jean-Claude van Damme, also known as the Muscle from Brussels, the spot is a daredevil stunt dubbed The Epic Split: the kind that makes you question whether it was really done or if its special effects.

Van Damme stands with his legs apart on the side mirrors of two reversing Volvo FM trucks (one foot on each truck). The vehicles reverse and then steadily part, leading van Damme into a 180 degree split. With Enya’s Only Time as the soundtrack, van Damme’s voice over puns in on Volvo engineering, while talking about his own body:

“I’ve had my ups and downs, my fair share of bumpy roads and heavy winds. That’s what’s made what I am today. Now I stand here before you. What you see is a body crafted to perfection, a pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics, and a mind-set to master the most epic of splits.”

A couple of days later, the spot had over 30 million views and to date and still growing, over 66.9 million views.

In the following months, fans around the world have taken it upon themselves to create parodies of The Epic Split. The most famous being the one with Chuck Norris called The Epic Christmas Split where a CGI created of actor does the ‘split’ across two planes with a voice over about Christmas, quoting from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I Scene I: “…The bird of dawning singeth all night long. And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad. The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike…” The exacting animation shows Norris balance on two planes, while on his head, 11 men balance on each other forming a shape akin to a Christmas tree adorned with fairy lights that go on at the end of the split:

 

There is one done by Channing Tatum as his character, Jenko, in 21 Jump Street. The parody is done on the set of 22 Jump Street using two food carts. It ends with a screaming, swearing Tatum clutching at his crotch:

 

Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford’s face and upper body was replaced van Damme’s in the original spot. For a while, #VanFord was trending in Toronto as a result of this parody:

 

There is the Palestinian spoof commenting on Israel’s attack on Gaza which has apparently led to a lower quality of life for Palestinians: electricity and water cuts; and lack of fuel. This time the ‘split’ is done by Bsyazlma Mahmoud Zuiter, and masterminded by Palestinian comedians. Zuiter is between two Kia sedans pushed by five men and the parody ends with the message, “And the Palestinian people continue to express their troubles and crises by different means.”

 

Bollywood’s version features actor Ajay Devgan balancing across two motorbikes, India’s most popular means of transport. Apparently, this one was done years ago, and resurfaced when van Damme’s epic split hit the interwebs.

 

There is one done on two scooters by the guys from Sunday Fundayz:

 

One of the parodies from Russia ending with message, “Jean-Claude you are the best. Greetings from Russia” has also had a fair share of attention. This one features the protagonist taking a swig from his bottle, possibly of a spirit drink, being Russian one is inclined to say vodka:

 

There is one by Julia Shin captioned: “Post grad life in a nutshell. We need a job. Please hire us.” A hilarious spoof done in a living room:

 

Another one is done in Jordan with two small trucks, ends up with the protagonist on the road clutching at his crotch:

 

When a brand produces remarkable content, parodies are the Internet’s own standing ovation to the creators. Consumers, for as long as they have the space and power to produce content and freely engage in the media, will continue paying homage to the genius behind amazing content. It would not be surprising if in the next couple of years, creative briefs from brands will include ‘the creation of parodies’ as a measurable metric for viral content

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