Copy Paste: How Advertising Recycles Ideas
Copy Paste: How Advertising
By Chris Dickman
Founding Editor, Graphics.com
You don't have to spend much time on sites that aggregate global ads, such as Ads of the World, to realize two things. The first is rather obvious: there are so many goods and services being cranked out across this fair planet that a veritable army of "creatives," as they like to be called in the business, are toiling away around the clock to generate the required print, media and online campaigns to keep the virtual cash registers ringing. Failing this, all purchases would cease and the global economy would collapse overnight. The second realization flows from the first: that with so many ads in the mix past and present, it's increasingly difficult to come up with fresh campaigns. The result is often advertising that either inadvertently, or deliberatly, owes more than a small debt to earlier campaigns.
Of course, agencies would rather not speak of such "coincidences" and prefer to focus on lavish award ceremonies, such as the CLIO Awards and the Cannes Lion Awards, the latter of which are bestowed at the annual International Festival of Excess... er, no, make that Creativity. And you can hardly blame these folks, can you? But then there's the individual known as Joe La Pompe, who describes himself thusly: "I'm a coincidences hunter in advertising since 1999. Masked to unmask copycats. I'm a real pain in the ass for all lazy creatives worldwide. I love original ideas. I'm a blogger, a columnist, a book writer, an incorruptible jury member, a keynote speaker... Whatever your agency is, beware, I'm watching you!" Joe is bilingual and the French version of this bold statement is a bit more rigorous, with the word "plagiaires," meaning plagiarists, employed instead of "coincidences." The text goes on to speak of boldly unmasking cheaters and mocking an agency universe noted for oversized egos. Lost in translation? Perhaps, given that the French verb "pomp
In any event, since 1999 Joe has made something of a career in outing advertising collateral that seems of dubious originality. For example, he has been posting current and earlier versions of ads side by side on his blog, accompanied by commentary that often manage the feat of being witty in both languages (although the French version is funnier). He's also produced several books devoted to advertising, with the just-released Copy Paste: How Advertising Recycles Ideas being the third. Joe states at the beginning that "A large number of campaigns sorely lack originality. In many cases they are just carbon copies of other campaigns. Stealing? Cheating? A lack on inspiration? An unconscious reminiscence? Free-riding? The aim of my approach is above all to precisely document and highlight this strange phenomenon, which is often shamefully swept under the carpet."
While the bilingual book includes a brief interview with Joe, as well as his theories on why so many similar ideas keep cropping up, a discussion on copyright law, a glossary and even an index of all the mentioned agencies and brands, the meat is a gallery section that presents 618 ad campaigns, with the reader asked to decide on the degree to which their similarities can be ascribed to coincidence. And these similarities are in some cases so blatant that you have to wonder what the offending agency was thinking of.
I miss the commentary to be found on Joe's site, which puts the similarities between campaigns in context. But I can't imagine anyone involved in advertising not wanting to have this volume on their shelf, since it's something of an atlas of creative roads down which the reader would be well advised not to venture.
All images from Copy Paste, Copyright Gestalten 2016
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