When Ashbrook went Mad, ride promotion tapped into parody

ope Ride founder Paul Ashbrook discovered a love for satire and parody in the pages of Mad Magazine.

While growing up in northeast Bartholomew County, the son of Vernon and Shirley Ashbrook shared his style of humor with examples such as the “Ham Salad Cures Baldness” sign he posted in his family’s Hope Food Mart.

Before graduating from Hauser High School in 1979, Ashbrook was making use of his high school’s mimeograph machine by creating a parody of his hometown newspaper that poked fun at classmates, teachers “and especially lunch ladies,” he said.

Since his neighbors have long been familiar with Ashbrook’s offbeat antics, few are surprised these days when promises of “flying bicycles, anti-gravity water bottles, amazing wind-reversing machines, holographic maps, rainbows and puppy dogs for all” pop up on the hoperide.org website.

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What may be more surprising is that Ashbrook didn’t originally intend to use humor to market the event.

The inaugural 1987 ride was briefly advertised as another activity of the Driftwood Valley Wheelers, a local bicycle club.

“I don’t even count 1987,” Ashbrook said. “That one was just practice.”

One year later, the second annual Hope Ride was promoted in earnest fashion as “a bicycle tour to benefit the Hope Food Bank.”

Still an unproven community event, only brief and basic details were released through local publications and radio stations, which the Hope Ride organizer said he found frustrating.

However, Ashbrook has an entirely different media experience in late summer of 1988. It happened after he focused his unique wit on an upcoming Arby’s Roast Beef television advertising campaign.

When the camera crews arrived in late August 1988, to film Hope residents praising roast beef sandwiches, Ashbrook hung a large “Save The Burgers” banner on the outside of his parents’ food store.

Inside the Hope Food Mart, shoppers found a large, plastic fund-raising canister to help the unfortunate “Benny, the 1988 Poster Burger.” A fictitious opposition organization, the Burger Liberation Army of Hope (BLAH), was even announced.

After a story on the satirical counter-campaign that appeared in The Republic was picked up by the The Associated Press, things got a little strange for Ashbrook.

“I was interviewed and featured in the Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Louisville Courier-Journal, the Cincinnati Enquirer — and even appeared on CNN,” Ashbrook said.

From his two contrasting media experiences in the same month, Ashbrook became convinced that humor and parody could effectively be harnessed as an effective marketing tool for his charity, he said.

So from writing an advice column for lovelorn cows to promoting a hog-farm luge run, the jokes and cow puns just keep coming year after year.

While much of the humor is downright silly, riders shouldn’t be surprised if they discover a few nuggets of truth or comfort here and there.

“No matter how bad you look in lycra, we guarantee you’ll see someone who looks worse,” Ashbrook said.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.