Both of these ads are amazing. One of them won’t win any creative awards.

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This Guinness ad has it all. One of those that you see and you think to yourself “I’ll be seeing you at Cannes.” Surely you’ve seen it by now, it’s gone very viral over the last month:

Instantly gripping. Fanciful camera work that gives you a kinetic, you-are-there feel. Great selection of the music track, which is at odds with the action, but hints that this is not just a sports drink ad. An unexpected, jarring twist. A meaningful emotional punch. A credible link to the brand and what it stands for. What else is there to ask for? Not much really, if you’re a consumer. As a piece of creativity meant to impact the real Joe down the street, this one just plain works.

And yet, my guess it that it won’t win a single major creative award.

Why? Because it may work for you and I, but if you’re a judge an awards show you have a duty to demand originality, and this is the mortal flaw of the Guinness ad and many other great ideas. Simply put, it has been done before.

Have a look at this one. It’s from India, for a local ice cream, and it came out two years ago.

How do you feel about the Guinness ad now?

We can’t (or shouldn’t) pass judgment on who did what first or who borrowed what from whom. But considering the timing, I think it’s safe to give it the Creativity kiss of death: “It’s been done before.”

It must be the bane of every young creative’s life: You go in to see the creative director with a great thought, something that has you thrilled…only to hear, in a most casual, almost dismissive tone “it’s been done.” Argh! Hearing this is an assured death sentence for the idea, even more than “I don’t like it”, or “this idea is terrible.”

Should it really matter if it was done before? After all, some of these cases of “been done before” happened in a different continent, in a different time, for a different category, surely it can’t be a big deal? In real life, perhaps not. But in the context of judging Creativity (with a capital C) absolutely! After all, the word itself implies creating something that wasn’t there before. If it has been done before, it may still be an amazing ad and it may still sell tons of product, it’s just not something that should be rewarded in a festival of creativity.

Now have a look at this lovely ad for Mercedes Benz, recently featured as an Ad of the Day:

What a joy it is, so interesting, crisp, and compelling in communicating the benefit. But now it gets really interesting…The Mercedes ad was posted in late September…and instantly some alert observers called foul and pointed to this ad by Fujifilm, dated February 19, 2013! Had it been “done before”?

Certainly, right? Not so fast. Amazingly, the creators of the Mercedes ad took the unusual step of defending their claim to originality, by stating that their ad was featured in Mercedes auto shows as early as last Fall (which can’t be easily corroborated), and by linking to an early Youtube upload from February 20, 2013 This, in my mind, is definitive proof that this wasn’t a copy. The defendant is innocent, and I expect awards will follow!

It’s like a cosmic coincidence of creativity. It may sound like a cop-out, but history is littered with examples of art/work/inventions that were birthed at the same time, with no likely correlation between the two. As in all creative arts, this also happens in advertising more often than you’d think.

So what do these examples teach us?

First of all, don’t be so quick to judge. It would be easy to start a witch hunt, but until you have the fact at hand, don’t make assumptions. I’m always a bit dismayed by how people toss around accusation of idea theft in public advertising forums. It’s basic civility to our colleagues to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Second, people need to understand that judging creativity in a creative awards show is not the same as a layman viewing creativity in their TV set. The criteria are much more extensive and demanding, and among these the variable of originality (“has it been done before?”) must be absolutely non-negotiable.

And finally, creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is affected by everything that came before, and it will affect everything that comes after. We have a responsibility to the past, by taking inspiration from what came before and using that to make the present work even better. And we have a responsibility to the future, by executing each idea in the very best way it can be done – If we’re going to preclude that same idea from ever being done again, we’d better make the best version of it possible!

Keep an ad on the Guinness ad and the Mercedes ad as awards season starts up next year, and let’s see if the juries agree.

“Hmmm…I feel like I’ve seen this ad before”

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If you come across a lot of creative, over time certain things you see or hear will trigger a sense of déja vu. Like in those memory-games you played as a kid where you’d try to find matching pairs, something pops in your memory that says “hold on a second…I’ve seen this before!”

Now, this notion is nothing new in advertising or in any art form, because inspiration and ideas always come from somewhere.

But it’s also obvious to a careful observer that not all of these “déja vus” can be classified into one single bucket: they range from crazy coincidences, to straight-up creative plagiarism. If we don’t make this distinction, it’s impossible to have a constructive conversation about what is right and what is wrong. Because believe me, there are grey areas like you wouldn’t believe! Continue reading