Is it right to damn the Copycats?

22 Apr,2013

By Johnson Napier and Ananya Saha


Intellectual theft in the advertising industry is not a new phenomenon. The Creative Abby this year brought back focus on the topic, but plagiarism had never gone away. However, it has become easier to identify a stolen creative now, than it was earlier. We spoke to a cross-section creative people for a perspective.


Abhijit Awasthi, National Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather

The way we look at plagiarism is that if there is an awards show and if there is a contentious piece of work that is brought to light by somebody, then I wouldn’t want to award that work. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that so and so ad has been plagiarized or copied – I wouldn’t make that allegation, as I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to whoever has created it. We are in the business because we like coming up with and creating ideas. We live in an age where we are exposed to most ideas especially on the internet, so sometimes something that you like subconsciously in the back of your mind just comes out without you realizing it. So I would treat it as an unfortunate incident and carry on with my work. A lot of such allegations come to the fore when you see print or outdoor advertising where it is the question of some visual or wordplay or illustration technique, which is not really worth mentioning. Like I keep giving examples of chemical processes which are 8- or 10-stage in process, and when it comes to filing a patent one realises that it has already happened before. So you come to terms with it as being unfortunate and you move on.

The thing is that there are thousands of different creative ideas that are churned out in different parts of the world and it’s impossible to keep track. Also one cannot keep a repository of every ad that is created and keep tabs on it. So there are discussions that are held on the similarity of ideas and also on an idea which has been seen before but which has been polished and presented in a better form. They end being given the benefit of the doubt and appreciated by the jury.


Bodhisatwa Dasgupta, Associate Creative Director, Grey Group India

It’s a tricky thing, this plagiarism business. Especially when it comes to something creative. Because here’s the thing – say you make a hundred kids sit in a room and arm them with crayons and paper. Then, you tell them to draw (let’s say) a picnic. Or love. You’ll find out of 100 people, at least 30 of them have drawn a similar picture. Is that plagiarism?


Bring it closer home to advertising. The web is filled with instances where something that has won big time this year was done some three years ago. Different agency, same execution. Of course, you could say that the present agency just poured over annuals and blindly copied each ad, and executed it slightly differently. Or, you could say (and incidentally this is what I think) that creative people think alike. They take similar leaps, think of similar insights, draw and write similar things. So most of the time, while the pictures may be the same, it’s the crayons that are different.

As a mentor to an army of bright kids, I’ve vehemently discouraged them from poring over award annuals. Because here’s what happens – they think of an idea, then they flip through the annuals, only to see their idea in the flesh, beautifully executed. It’s a demoralizing thing. So my advice to them is, forget what’s been done. Think, think and think some more. Scribble out your ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. What’s important is that you thought of something that was worthy enough, a few years previously, to win a Pencil. And that’s bloody good, for an intern/ trainee.

Having said that, I know of people who’ve blindly copied another’s folio to get a job. That’s quite shitty. Of course, the thing with shit is that sooner or later, it’s sniffed out and dealt with.”


Ashish Khazanchi, NCD, Publicis Ambience

We keep hearing of instances of plagiarism in advertising now and then. In the current scenario it has gone to the extent of being a witch-hunt where people are seeing things that don’t exist. What happens is that there are thousands of creative people from around the world who work on a similar kind of brief and it is possible that the out of the hundred different ads, expressions from a few ads will have some similarities. But there are some ads that are too apparent and imitations of earlier produced works.


In most ads today, the visual referencing could be similar – like television ads could be inspired from some big film, but more often than not people are not so stupid that they will enter an ad in an award which has been copied from elsewhere. There could be some odd cases where ads could be termed as plagiarized ads and the only way they could be booted out is if the jury is selected with a lot of caution. After all jurymen are people who have travelled a lot and have been around to ad festivals and they know a lot of stuff that is happening in the industry. So, the tighter the jury, the better it is for the industry. You have to get people who know the category that they are going to be judging.

I do not agree that plagiarism does not happen in the West or even South East Asia. It happens there too but the big thing is that the western world is moving more towards the digital world. Which means the work they are treading on is all known. For them, the way a Press or TV ad was done is not as relevant any more. They are looking at integrated communications across mediums, which means more accountability for the work that’s been done. So there is not much scope for plagiarism in new-age mediums.”


Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions Festivals

“We have clear and unambiguous rules against scam work across all our festivals and it is a matter of record that we can and will remove awards from agencies who have won using scam work.


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