Prabhakar Mundkur: Does using the same idiom as someone else make an idea original?

18 Jan,2018

Prabhakar Mundkur

By Prabhakar Mundkur


The death of Kapil Mohan,the creator of the Old Monk rum drew a number of memoirs and essays on this iconic brand.  But one particular ad on social media on January 10, became quite popular and went viral.


To me it was an idea made famous by Chivas Regal in their campaign below.

In a debate with some of my contemporaries, the opinion was divided.  Many felt that it was reminiscent of the old Chivas campaign, but others felt that it was an adage that could well be re-used. One of my friends even questioned whether the ad was legal since it promoted Old Monk rum. (although the word rum was cleverly not used). Another friend raised the issue of the ad being created as speculative work, since it was not approved by Coca-Cola according to the tweet from the agency that created it.


One awardwinning creative director I asked said: “Yes it reminds me of Chivas, but the visual makes up for it”.  Another awardwinning creative director said: “Yes it reminds me of Chivas. I remember it was something like ‘To the host it’s half empty, to the guest, it’s half full’.  However, since it’s an adage, nobody really owns it. Chivas did a fine job of adding a twist while in the Thums Up ad, the art director went for a literal visual depiction of the adage.”

But I leave you to decide if you think the ad is original and if it needs to be applauded.


Patanjali – LVMH Alliance

While as a financial proposition it may make some sense, news of the LVMH-Patanjali partnership is as different as chalk and cheese to use a very tired phrase. The L Catterton Equity Fund was set up by LVMH to make investments in high growth companies with consumer brands and is one of the largest funds in the world.


I thought that there might be some major hurdles to overcome especially the brand name itself.


L Catterton Managing Partner, Ravi Thakran told the press that he is keen to explore markets like US, Japan, China, South Korea and Europe for Patanjali. However, the markets he mentions are hardly homogenous. For that matter, even the markets in North East Asia are not homogenous.


The first hurdle for overseas markets could be the name itself – Patanjali. First of all, it is a four-syllable name which is quite uncommon in Asian markets. In addition, the Japanese recognise the foreignness of names both in Katakana and Roman alphabets and the Chinese recognise foreignness whey they see certain Hanzi characters.  And if the foreignness is attributed to Indianess, one is not quite sure what Indianness and Indian products mean in these markets. For most North East Asian markets India is considered both chaotic and mysterious.  The Chinese feel that Indian media is constantly portraying them as evil, which is not going down well with the Chinese.  In addition, in countries like China, the government is officially atheist.  So Babas and Vaids have little cache there. According to a research conducted in 2008, less than 40% of the Japanese population is religious.


Besides, for Patanjali to accept any foreign investment, might be a bit like selling the brand’s soul, given its nationalistic, anti-MNC positioning thus far.


The Art of the Crowd

Crowd Art is an often-employed ploy by artists and advertisers.  The first great commercial to use crowd art was the British Airways commercial in 1990.  It used thousands of people to create a face which then winked at the audience before dissolving into a Union Jack.

The recent Mercedes ad re-inforcing their leadership in the Indian market used crowd art to form the three-pointed star which was quite interesting.

Which brings me back to the question I started with: is using the same idiom as another person but dressed differently, original?  When it comes to art, the question of originality needs some deeper introspection.  Under some conditions it still remains original. To me for example, Bernard Shaw’s famous play Pygmalion had to make a transition from being a play to being a musical when it became My Fair Lady, but for me My Fair Lady is still original.


In general, I like Herman Melville’s view of originality when he ways, “It is better to fail in originality, than succeed in imitation.”



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