CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: The creative idea doesn’t yet merit royalty payments

’Dear Campaign, don’t you realise that the commercial you credited to (insert agency name) is actually one that I wrote/art directed while at (insert agency name) 17 years ago?’ is one of the most common letters we receive. I don’t mean it’s written by people with no social skills.

’Dear Campaign, don’t you realise that the commercial you credited

to (insert agency name) is actually one that I wrote/art directed while

at (insert agency name) 17 years ago?’ is one of the most common letters

we receive. I don’t mean it’s written by people with no social

skills.



It’s one of the most frequent. And, in truth, it doesn’t usually start

’Dear Campaign’, it usually starts, Dear something more rude, demands

retractions and grovelling apologies, and goes on to imply that we know

about as much about the provenance of famous work as Gazza knows about

pre-match fitness.



The theme of the ownership of a creative idea arose again last week when

the PepsiCo realignment saw Walkers Crisps leave BMP DDB for Abbott Mead

Vickers BBDO. Since appointing BMP in 1994, Walkers has become one of

the most famous and successful branded properties in UK advertising.

Should BMP therefore be paid royalties based on the number of times, if

at all, its Lineker campaign is aired through AMV - in the same way

musicians receive royalties each time their songs are performed? The

question could equally be asked about Ronseal’s angry man (created by

HHCL & Partners, now at Griffin Bacal), the Andrex puppy (created by J.

Walter Thompson, now at FCB) or BMP’s Jack Dee campaign for John Smith’s

(now at GGT).



The idea of royalties makes initial sense. Cynical perhaps, but some

existing forms of remuneration actually reward agencies for work that

doesn’t make the grade; if an idea bombs, coming up with another can

generate more revenue. Also, royalties are as easy, if not easier, to

administer as commission.



The pitfalls are equally obvious. First, factors other than the quality

of a creative idea influence a client’s spend. Second, fee-based

remuneration, when everybody knows what they are paying and earning,

makes budgeting easier. Third, isn’t there a temptation for media buyers

to plan and buy campaigns with more screenings or insertions of the ad

than is strictly necessary, just to get the royalties up? Finally, as

BMP’s Chris Powell argues with saintly self-control, clients pay

agencies to come up with an idea, but agencies have no automatic right

of ownership. Jack Dee, Powell says, was good at BMP and, more recently,

at GGT. The same could be true for Lineker at AMV.



Clearly there is a huge opportunity for the first client that initiates

a payment scheme which truly reflects an agency’s time and creative

effort over the lifetime of a campaign, but holding one’s breath and

waiting for it would, I’m afraid, prove a grave health risk. Until then,

fee-based remuneration (with an element of commission and

performance-related pay thrown in) surely offers the best solution all

round.



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