CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: I'm a creative who's been accused of ripping off my latest brilliant TV ad from a little known arthouse film from the 70s. Of course I did rip it off and thought I'd get away with it for the simple reason that the source material was so obscure. Should I change my approach and try to come up with an original thought?

A: Every week, somebody assembles a reel of the 500 most acclaimed commercials of all time. Get hold of one and go through it methodically, ruthlessly eliminating all those that have clearly discernible cultural origins. By the end of this exercise you will have a very short reel indeed.

Nobody should be ashamed of this fact. Contrary to conventional prattle, advertising creative people are not expected to be original. They are expected to produce original and effective advertisements. If you'd appreciated this distinction earlier in your career, you wouldn't be in the pickle you are.

To be inspired by and to adapt an existing technique is perfectly responsible behaviour as long as it passes two tests. Does it meet the needs of the brand - or have you hijacked a piece of post-production gimmickry in the hope of disguising the absence of what we old timers call An Idea? And is it an original advertisement?

If the answer to both questions is yes, you may cheerfully plead not guilty to any charge of ripping-off.

You should also, of course, take extreme care to see that you haven't trespassed on someone's legitimate intellectual property.

If you'd proudly screened the 70s arthouse film before presenting your idea to the client (and his lawyer), you'd now be a hero with a shedload of gold. Instead, you face your best friends' delighted derision - not because of what you did but because you tried, quite unnecessarily, to cover it up. What a silly person.

Q: I'm a client and my agency has just been accused of nicking the idea for my latest ad from an art student's short film. Legal action is being threatened. What should I do?

A: Subject your agency to a blistering rebuke, not for the ad but for concealing its origins from you. If reparations are required, insist that your agency bear the total cost.

Establish in writing that any recurrence will trigger instant dismissal. Then take them all out for a dinner of heroic opulence and imagination. You've already got one great commercial and you might get more.

Q: My client seems to have fallen in love with his online agency and is giving them more and more of our advertising budget. My managing director is going crazy and has instructed me to come up with a list of things we can do to discredit the agency - and to stop at nothing. I can't think of any, can you?

A: No, I can't. And even if I could, I wouldn't pass them on to you.

There's nothing particularly principled about my reaction: it's just that your managing director is an idiot and doesn't deserve to be helped by anyone.

In business as in life, when a discarded squeeze sets out to discredit the squire's new fancy, the squire's inconstancy is immediately vindicated.

He feels no sympathy and no remorse. No further crumbs will come the discard's way.

In business as in life, it is in the nature of new fancies to be a little on the flighty side. Online agencies are no exception. Your managing director should grit his teeth and move, with lowered eyes and due diffidence, into the role of older, wiser sister: never obtrusive, totally reliable, undemandingly loyal.

As the appeal of the flighty one begins to fade, the squire will turn with familiar gratitude to his old love. The passion may not return, of course - but the billings will.

Q: Are creative directors too old?

A: Too old for what?

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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