Inevitable Creative Outcomes, vs Lazy, vs creative theft - where is the line?

I Badlanded the reverse reading trick last year, hoping we'd end the old Usenet joke trend then and there, but last weeks release of DK groups internal sales meet video which again does the reverse reading thing had some suggesting that DK should change their name to Xerox. Our pal Joe la pompe has his own post on this reverse reading trend, showing a French copy. Joe, who I keep dubbing the badland ninja for nailing twin ads to the board faster than a speeding bullet point, has a book out with twin ads out as well, which I show off here, and you can pick up at Amazon France.

RECREAR - The Truth

On the topic of twin ads, Mike Wolfsohn has posted this Adage article: In Defense of Inevitable Creative Outcomes, where he says that advertising isn't an originality contest, but a tool where one should do what's appropriate for the issue at hand. He rightly points out that input effects the outcome as well, as too many briefs are the exact same starting point, so landing on the same end-point shouldn't surprise anyone.


Too frequently ads are accused of being rip-offs of music videos or movies, without recognizing the talent that is required to identify creativity within one artistic genre and translate it successfully into another -- namely marketing.

He makes a good argument, and ties it up nicely with: "originality should be celebrated, risk should be rewarded and innovation should be admired. But so, too, should the ability to translate popular culture into effective marketing. Not when it's done illegally, surreptitiously, or dishonestly -- but when it's done humbly, artfully and insightfully"

I think this is where most creatives have beef. There are two kinds of copy-cat ads. The twin ideas that are born and live in the advertising visual universe, and are often caused by failure to think further. What happens when everyone gets brief that stresses you must advertise this drink as best served cold? I'm using this example, because I have fallen into the same classic literal visual pun trap when responding to a Bailey's brief, but unlike these guys I tossed my ice-lolly in the bin. Then there are the fantastic coincidences, like when Heineken and Mini both littered Amsterdam with empty boxes over the holidays, which are terribly amusing but must pain the creative teams. Sometimes copies are clearly intentional, as when doing a homage, sometimes the idea god messes with our heads. Then there's the copying something else out there ads, and these can really ignite fans, who will be pissed off at your brands "minor theft". It's one thing to cleverly reference a well known film or play in style or substance within the set borders of a campaign, it's quite another to hijack a popular execution without the original artists. This Heineken ad from 1985 owes it's comedy setup to George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, without the plays history the idea simply makes no sense.

Heineken -Majorca - (1985) :30 (UK)

But its cases like when animation style and executions are read like a how-to, instead of a starting point which gets directors like Tomas Mankovsky who created the original to accuse creatives of being "researchers". Last years "sorry I'm late" and "Morning elegance" trend never wanted to end with everyone from Target to Comcast joining in.

It's a little sad that they didn't come to me first, when they have sold something that I've already developed. It feels like some creatives should get the title "researchers" as they sit and scan the web for ideas that they can sell to clients. But this isn't a new phenomena, and at the same time it's nice to know that someone thought "I like this, I want my own version". They should at least have tried to take it further, add something new, like for example Shynolas new video for Coldplay.

The "researchers" way of working seems to be "find some art, and connect it to a client", as in this example: "...would this be worthy of an ad award for ad creativity? Reward the ad 'creatives' who found the artist and put the cause to it?". If there's something adfolks like to do, it is regurgitate what they've seen in art books. Sometimes more than once, as "head shots" orgasm photo book has been done to death now. The really messed up way of doing this is when you borrow artists idea, and claim he was involved in the project, but later that turns out to be a fib. Advertising has always looked to itself, trends and techniques will spawn lookalikes like rings on water. Using the same font is not the same idea. Using speech bubbles as a place to deliver the headlines is not an idea. They are executions. Really cool executions can be ideas in themselves, and like clockwork countless versions of the carousel ad appeared after their Cannes win, one can only suspect "demo-love", as often happens when advertising feeds on itself.

It's with stories like "calling Tarek Nour a copy-cat gets you arrested in Egypt" for "infringing copyrights" on the Tareknour-tv ads, where each commercial was a straight up copy, from script to camera-angle of previous award winning ads, that the IP waters get really muddy. In some cases, the fattest wallet always wins and this may be why idea-theft infuriates young creatives so. Creatives are judged solely on the base of their (unexecuted) ideas in their portfolios, and these ideas can not be legally protected, leaving yet another generation vulnerable to fearing rip-offs at every agency they ever show their portfolio to. Don't worry kids, if it's a good original idea you'll have to shove it down peoples throats. Straight up nicking someones execution is copyright infringement, when copying an idea isn't. Coke learned it the hard way, and Joel Veitch won. What clients call digital layouts, lawyers call 'copyright infringement'.
Being accused of being unoriginal is one thing, leading your clients straight into a potential lawsuit is another this how you can tell them to stop it.
Straight up tracing someone elses work should never win you awards though. Even if can be really funny like with the Nazi Meat.
For another take on the subject, check out Adverve Plagiarism in Advertising show. One thing is clear: you can't own an idea. But you can execute it right.

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