PERSPECTIVE: Originality is not the issue; but creativity seems to be absent

Nul point in the Eurovision Song Contest and now nul black Pencils at D&AD. What's happened to our famously fertile creativity? While you'll never find an advertising awards juror humbled before the sheer quality of the work he's judging, the fabled "vintage year" (so vintage no-one alive can remember one) seems more elusive than ever.

And this year's D&AD awards jury has not disappointed, being duly disappointed by the calibre of the entries ... so no black Pencil and not even a sniff of a silver in those ambient and integrated categories that can usually be expected to get otherwise dried-up creatives frothing with excitement.

A glance at this week's feature by the D&AD president-elect, Nick Bell (p24), reveals that many of this year's winners have already tripped across the red carpet more times than an Oscars stage dresser; so worthy winners, but hardly fresh and exciting. And only the John Smith's work grows better and better with repeated viewings.

Meanwhile the really fresh, goose-pimple-inducing ad of the moment (too tender for D&AD, widely tipped for success at Cannes) finds itself at the centre of copy-cat accusations before it's even had its day in the south of France sunshine.

Honda's "cog" stands accused of plagiarism by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, two Swiss artists who claim the ad bears remarkable similarities to their film Der Lauf Der Dinge. And they aren't the first artists to complain: Gillian Wearing and Mehdi Norowzian both famously cried foul over ads for Volkswagen and Guinness and rarely a month goes by at Campaign without receiving an irate letter about ideas being nicked.

From Robert Zemeckis' Back To The Future to my own favourite, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the perfectly timed sequence of events that uses the domino effect to cook an egg or sell a car is hardly a new concept and I wouldn't be surprised if Fischli and Weiss don't owe a debt to Dick van Dyke themselves.

The legalities of copyright infringement remain opaque enough to keep the lawyers in cashmere socks. But advertising's incestuous relationship with art, culture and popular trends is as see-through as Anoushka's bikini in Big Brother. In fact, it would only be surprising if this wasn't the case As the Norowzian case proved (ish), you can't copyright an idea.

And thank heaven for that, because great ideas are not exactly in abundance.

It's impossible not to sympathise with artists who see their work reduced to a short spot to sell a Honda. But the real issue, as the absence of black Pencils this year suggests, is not about sourcing creative inspiration from the world of art, but that creative inspiration (original or otherwise) is hard to find in a £16 billion-plus industry that only really exists to find creative solutions.

- Caroline Marshall returns next week.


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