In the week before Cannes it seems appropriate to talk of creative
inspiration and provenance. Creatives get so het up about the subject
because - as Caroline Marshall wrote last week - they are defined by
recognition of their work. That’s why they obsess about awards, why
those ’Dear Campaign, I did it in 1974 ...’ letters pour in, and why the
row over the new VW Golf ads is more than just luvvies throwing toys out
of their prams.
I used to get het up in my early days as a naive pup when more
experienced hands nicked my stories and wrote them, with their bylines
emblazoned all over the page. (Nicola. How are you?) When the nationals
used to ’pick up’ my stories and not credit me, or even the magazine,
I’d fly into a rage. Provenance matters when you’re made or broken by
Mehdi Norowzian’s long-standing battle against Arks is due in court
Arks - allegedly - used an idea from a test film he’d shown them for
’anticipation’, the ad featuring the bloke maniacally dancing around a
pint of Guinness.
Those of us who have seen Norowzian’s original believe there is no
’allegedly’ about it at all - if Arks did see his film before making it
Gillian Wearing versus BMP DDB is a different matter. The Turner
Prize-winning artist accused the agency of using her idea in its new
The idea in both cases involves people holding boards with their
thoughts written on them, usually at odds with the image they
Ideas come from anywhere, said James Best, BMP DDB’s chairman, with a
straight bat. Anywhere? Perhaps ’anywhere’ means those Cannes
Grand-Prix-winning Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury Maxell ads that featured
people holding boards suggesting imagined lyrics from Desmond Dekker’s
the Israelites and the Skids’ Into the Valley. In turn, the argument
against the ads (such as it was within creative circles) was that they
were a rip-off of the Bob Dylan film featuring Subterranean Homesick
Did Gillian Wearing rip off Howell Henry? Bob Dylan? I have no idea
where her inspiration came from. Then, as now, the arguments are
introspective. The public, receiving the message either as advertising
or art, doesn’t give a stuff.
The argument used to run that it was fine to rip off ideas so long as
you switched the medium. I don’t agree. I think it’s fine even to rip
off old ads as long as you come clean about it.
Judgment issues - such as they exist - concern how the ideas are
However, the creators of the work have a different agenda. It’s
difficult to accept that other people can have the same idea as you, and
perhaps even harder to admit that they sourced their idea - similar to
yours - from a place other than your head. Difficult, but the truth.