All the attention paid last week to the International Advertising
Festival in Cannes served as a reminder of how rare it is to focus for
that length of time on the creative side of the business.
But at the same time, there were other, less welcome reminders, too,
when in two separate instances the creative community was forced to
confront the thorny issue of similarities in the content of
Remember the global advertising that Coca-Cola and agencies owned by the
Interpublic Group of Companies introduced recently for the flagship
Coca-Cola soft drink, carrying the theme "Life tastes good"? Well, when
the campaign was rolled out to Canada, it turned out ads had been
running in that country since September for Lactantia, a brand of butter
sold by the Parmalat Canadian subsidiary, carrying the theme - you
guessed it - "Life tastes good."
Meanwhile, in the United States, a small sportswear maker, Game Over,
filed a lawsuit against the athletic-goods giant Nike, charging that a
hugely popular television commercial for the company by Wieden &
Kennedy, depicting a virtuoso display of basketballs being dribbled to a
frenetic beat, plagiarised from an event marketing promotion developed
by Game Over, called Shakin', an exhibition combining ball-handling,
music and break dancing.
The Nike spot, titled "Freestyle," features "the exact same expression,
content and ideas as was utilized by Game Over over the last two years,"
according to the lawsuit, filed in a federal district court.
To be sure, there is nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes.
(Wonder what they say on the Sun? "There is nothing new on that third
planet from here"?)
Often you'll come across instances of campaigns for disparate products
all simultaneously featuring the same colour, catchphrase, pitchperson
or song. Most of those can be chalked up to zeitgeist surfing as
creatives seek inspiration from the same smallish pool of pop-culture
Sometimes, though, the similarities are, as Frank Sinatra once warbled,
too close, too close for comfort, raising the spectre of plagiarism.
Journalists who cover advertising will typically receive six to 12
letters a year complaining that some new commercial or print ad is too
suspiciously much like a predecessor. Sometimes, it's even the creator
or producer from the first time around who's doing the griping,
helpfully enclosing copies of the previous work to underscore the
One American ad trade publication, Adweek, has even introduced a
discomforting feature, "Deja Vu," that never actually uses the dreaded
p-word, but does the job with deft implications.
For instance, a recent eyebrow-raiser noted the oh-so-close similarities
between a current campaign by Deutsch for Snapple, which uses the device
of fruits having sex as a metaphor for blended juice flavors, and a
campaign from 1996 by Leo Burnett for Fruitopia, which uses the very
same device. There is even a TV commercial for Snapple showing fruits
making out on a beach, just as there was for Fruitopia.
Maybe Coca-Cola can change its theme in Canada to "Life tastes like
butter." But then, couldn't Mike Myers sue for plagiarism?