Do you care about originality?

29 Aug

line up of zebras with one facing forward

I was watching The Hunger Games with my daughter last weekend and I kept saying the actors’ lines before they had muttered them. “You’ve seen this already!” she lamented.

Sadly, I hadn’t. But I’ve seen enough movies to know what comes next.

Advertising, which is all about finding new ways to sell, suffers a similar affliction. Ideas get re-used, recycled, refried and outright stolen, until media environments are permeated with a feeling of deja vu. Does the customer care? When Lay’s can throw a million bucks at you, do you mind if the promotion isn’t a new idea?

I once read that there are really only 10 ideas in advertising and everything else is a riff off those: a perfect exponential growth curve in reverse.

Do you care?

Actually, you do. You may not care the first time an idea is copied, but you will care the second time. That’s the key.

Lay’s can copy an idea and throw it out there in the chip market and everything’s just fine. But if Ruffles tries exactly the same strategy next month, you will note that. The money will still appeal to you, but the brand’s reputation will take a hit.

That’s because originality matters. It’s not the most important thing, but it matters. It’s a sign of character, of effort, of intelligence. It respects and rewards the audience it’s aimed at. We are the audience, and we appreciate it, even admire it. That builds the brand’s reputation.

Consider Samsung’s fortunes this week. It will be interesting to see the sales figures of their smartphones over the next few months, now that their devices have been found guilty of significant design theft from the iPhone.

Will the market reward or punish the copycat? The answer will tell us much about the question posed in this post.

 

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8 Responses to “Do you care about originality?”

  1. Louisa August 29, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    So your next post is going to tell us the 10 ideas right? You can’t just leaving us hangin’!

    • Doug Brown August 29, 2012 at 6:50 am #

      An audience request! I’ll see if I remember that tune Louisa.

  2. maureen August 30, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    I agree to some extent, Doug, but I’d say the ’originality’ is in the execution rather than the plot. To use a sports metaphor, every hockey game is the same in terms of ’plot’, i.e. location, teams and rules but every game is different because there are enough variables to keep us interested. Unless, of course, 1 team uses a centre trap defence, but that is another story.
    Shakespeare used well known stories and historical anecdotes to base his plays but 400 years later he is still tormenting grade 9 English students…
    To quote the late Abe Lemons, “There are really only 2 plays: Romeo and Juliet, and put the darn ball in the basket.”
    Still, I’d like to see those 10 original ideas too. Unfortunately I’d say most modern advertising uses 4 at most, 2 of which consist of how to drape a semi-nude female (or male) over the product.

    • Doug Brown August 30, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      Excellent points, as always, Moe. I would certainly lump execution in there with ideas in this discussion. The ten on the list I referred to (which I’m working like the devil to track down) are the plots, or ideas.

      I wouldn’t call draping a naked body over a product an idea, but a lack of one.

      But here’s one of the ten you’ve no doubt seen a hundred times: Someone is doing something stupid (licking the carpet on the stairs; shooting himself out of a canon holding an envelope). A sympathetic voice then tells us…”There’s an easier way to … (clean your stairs carpet; get your letter there quickly”). Etc. etc. ad NAUSEUM.

      I’m not sure it comforts me to know they are merely employing a Shakespearean device! 😉

  3. Tom August 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    To flip the Apple/Samsung point around, many are considering this to be a mis-step by Apple. Aside from looking slightly desperate, they have exposed issues with their own phones to consumers. The new message… Samsung can make beautiful products cheaper and technically better. It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple’s deep brand strength and loyal consumers can keep the iPhone on top.

    http://www.itproportal.com/2012/08/29/why-apple-has-shot-itself-in-the-foot/

    • Doug Brown August 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      I’m a Samsung guy myself Tom and I got plenty of heat from the iPhone rabble when the decision came down. I don’t suppose the verdict will affect the way those guys feel about their devices. But as for the rest of us, I’m with ya! Thanks for the comment…and the link!

  4. Murray Kirk September 3, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    Doug, great question! I don’t care much about originality, I’m a “there’s nothing new in the universe” kinda guy anyway but I very much appreciate effort. If you plagiarize something verbatim (even if its Shakespeare) I think you not only dull but lazy and I am unmoved. However if you work hard to bring a contemporary sense to an existing idea (much like Shakespeare did) I take note and im inspired by your effort and zeal.

    • Doug Brown September 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

      I’m with you Murray, for the most part. I like to see the lineage acknowledged though. It never hurt the Bard to admit it, led to some lively debate in fact!

      “The inspiration for” is a common – and welcome – admission in creative circles in any industry. “The shameless appropriation of” is too often the reality and suggests the dull and lazy effort you mentioned. In advertising, we can never afford to be the latter. We are representing a business’s brand, and that can never, ever be the consumer takeaway. Great comment!

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