Everywhere I look I see mash-ups. The combination of two or more things into a new whole. The term was originally used to describe user-generated songs that mixed different tracks together. I heard one the other day that laid Michael Jackson's vocals from the song Bad over the theme from Ghostbusters. A more recent favorite of mine is DJ moule's 303 is TNT. It combines AC/DC, Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, James Brown and more into a work of kickin' genius.
The mash-up approach is now being used everywhere. Here's one from Reeses, a Reeses/Rice Krispy snack bar mash-up.
The movie Alien vs Predator was a movie mash-up.
The Vuitton pattern is mashed with one by artist Takashi Murakami on this limited-edition handbag.
One of the reasons why I believe this approach is becoming so widely employed is that mash-ups are so easily digested. Think of the way that movie concepts are pitched (sometimes facetiously, sometimes seriously), "It's Pretty Woman meets Out of Africa" (this and others appear as a recurring gag in the Altman film The Player.)
When two sources that have established context and provide potentially rich associations are combined, both are defamiliarized into a striking, new whole that you instantly "get". The impact can be powerful and the investment necessary to create and disseminate new concepts is shortcutted. With the amount of media and messaging now being absorbed, a method of introducing new products and concepts that cuts through the noise and is instantly understood is crucially necessary. We are increasingly a species of roaming scanners, filter through vast amount of signals and pausing briefly only for those things that have some kind of hook. The familiarity of a mash's source material and the "bang" of the defamiliarization delivered is such a hook. The number of ads and promotions I see for new music is overwhelming. I very rarely take the time to investigate any one of them, but will I click on a link to a mash-up featuring James Brown and AC/DC? F*** yea, I have to. (Word of mouth and personal recommendations are another important hook.)
The danger I see in all of this is the exhaustion of value from the source materials. Just as line-extensions can destroy a brands positioning, mash-ups can dilute the power of it sources by eroding their emotional impact and the clear spots they once held in people's hearts and minds.