Wednesday, July 5, 2023

So, what do we do about all the copycat at advertising awards?

Cap48 or how to do a great homage

It happens every year, at several advertising awards - from the Dubai Lynx to the Cannes Lions to every other conceivable and imaginable awards festival: Copycats. Funnily, Cannes Lions often ends up giving awards to copycat ads it already gave awards to in the past. Joe La Pompe, the specialist in spotting such ads once gave a conference in Lebanon and in it he quizzed the audience about an image in his presentation - that of smiling babies. Naji Boulos figured out the meaning (and won Joe's book!) as to what it meant: The creative people are too young to figure out that the concept has already been done.

And considering the creative people end up being a bit older and becoming part of Cannes Lions (or other such festivals!) jury members they bring their amnesia with them, and bingo - end up rewarding ads without knowing they've been done before.

Also, back in 2002 - which is an eternity - we used to get, believe it or not, along with the briefs samples of what the competition has done in order not to fall into the trap of repeating what was done. Sometimes, it is luck that saves you - a bank took so long to approve a concept so that the day they approved it, and coming back from the meeting, turns out another bank had already done the idea and was plastering it all over town (if you want to know what the idea was, it was simply a Lebanese coin  - the 500 liras! - tied to a ribbon a pinned to a jacket). Another example? A different client - an automotive giant - also took time to approve a concept when the Dollar to Euro was fluctuating, so I proposed a line "our prices are $tabl⟨€⟩" the next day the town's most luxurious shop had in the newspaper an ad that said "$al⟨€⟩". Sure it might be a case of "great minds think alike" or as the rest of the proverb goes "and fools seldom differ" (please check my fun take here).

But again, apart from agencies and juries who are too young to know the ads happened prior, and apart from agencies who no longer have research department because of cost-cutting or integration or whatever other reason, and apart from pure sheer dishonesty of which too many ego-filled ad people are known for (on the creative, client servicing, marketing or client side, briefs such as "I want an ad that looks like this one" are far too common truth be told!) - the reasons are just too many and sadly too far rooted within the industry.

So where do we go from here? The easiest way is to say that "imitation is a sign of flattery" or "this is an idea whose time has come" (I saw that in a plagiarism symposium where a 30 second tvc was copied frame per frame and the person presenting the conference - from a very reputed local agency no less - was still convinced that "it was an idea whose time has come") to "eh w chou fiya?" (yeah so what) as a local Lebanese ad man once bluntly told me (he is known for nicking practically all his concepts from other international agencies - or worse the portfolio of university students!)... But all of these are just us hiding behind our finger.

At advertising awards we should know better. Some of us - Joe La Pompe, myself, others as well, we try to pinpoint the originals either from our archives or our memory. Also, just to be clear, you cannot copyright an idea, what you can copyright and defend is the execution of the idea (Of course, some people copy the executions and laws be damned!). Small note though, we must not confuse copycats with homage as in the excellent case above of Cap48 which smartly played on the fantastic Eva Herzigova Wonderbra "look me in the eyes. I said the eyes" (original here) to support Cap48 which battles against disability in Belgium (here) using disabled model Tanja Kiewitz who is missing a limb and which gives the headline a totally different meaning.

Or perhaps, the best way is - if you can't beat them, join them as Rosa Parks Paris did for its client Grand Frais - which was copied by Monoprix in Doha in Qatar - and you can see the comparative of the two ads here... So what did Rosa Parks Paris do for its client? It diffused the ad logo free so as for the other brands to take it and insert their own logo without the hassle harnessing a lot of free ads for Grand Frais and replying to the whole issue smartly and with a lot of humor...

Well, now that's a campaign worth a lot of awards.