ANALYSIS: EDITOR’S COMMENT - It’s acceptable to plunder ad ideas - just own up to it

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.

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

it.



Mehdi Norowzian’s long-standing battle against Arks is due in court

soon.



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

elsewhere.



Gillian Wearing versus BMP DDB is a different matter. The Turner

Prize-winning artist accused the agency of using her idea in its new

Golf campaign.



The idea in both cases involves people holding boards with their

thoughts written on them, usually at odds with the image they

represent.



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

Blues.



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

consumed.



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.



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