Blimey! If you can’t use your own column to ask naive questions, what’s
the point of having one? All I said last week was: ‘What is this
obsession with being the biggest agency?’ Cue abuse. Never mind - this
week’s question is about the fascinating issue of ad authorship.
‘Success has many fathers, failure is a bastard,’ is my favourite
epithet about the ad industry. The best thing about it being the many
weird things that people actually want to lay claim to. I don’t mean
Wonderbra or Pentax or ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’, but the
people who get excited about their 25-year-old ad for Polyfilla being
ripped off in the latest condom campaign (I made that up!).
Currently my happy little file includes J. Walter Thompson Manchester
moaning that TWA ripped off an ad it did for Virgin Holidays; Senior
King claiming British Airways ripped off an ‘A to B via Zzz’ ad it did
for Scandinavian Seaways; Simons Palmer complaining that the new Levi’s
work starring older models rips off its Nike print work; and, of course,
the Citroen versus Volkswagen saga.
Worse, I’ve made the mistake of championing media planning as the
creative of the future. So what happens? Media planners start behaving
just like creatives. Scarcely a ‘media choice’ goes by without someone
else claiming they did it first in the 80s, or saw it in hieroglyphics
at Luxor. The latest is McCann-Erickson complaining about the new Abbott
Mead Vickers ‘Kill Your Speed’ placements in TV listings. Not many
people recall it was done first for Gold Blend in1993.
I don’t wish to belittle these complaints (too much). I guess people are
what they’ve done, and to be associated with a good idea on your CV will
help your salary prospects. Also, I know how much it irritates us here
when our competitors rip off a regular feature, and dress it up under
another name, or Robin Wight ‘borrows’ Campaign articles for the Times
or Tatler. But we don’t go writing to 07.06.96 (the magazine formerly
known as the UK Press Gazette) about it.
So, finally, this week’s naive question is a two-parter - A: why does it
matter so much that the idea is all-time original (even I get the point
about original this year) as long as it’s relevant for the client? and
B: do creatives really think that other people don’t innocently have
ideas like ‘A to B via Zzz’ when the brief says ‘travel in comfort’?
Just questions for discussion, honest. After all, Hollywood has made a
virtue out of the saying ‘there are only five film scripts’. Can’t
advertising? Well, John Hegarty’s use of the classic 60s Hamlet ad where
a man walks into a launderette and takes his trousers off and puts them
into a machine hasn’t exactly done Levi’s or Bartle Bogle Hegarty any
harm, has it?