Why are we so poor at plagiarism? Why does it become so evident the minute something is lifted?
Disclaimer: No brands were harmed during the writing of this piece. However, a few coincidences and erroneous overlaps have been gently pointed out, with absolutely no malicious intent.
Disclaimer 2: Art directors of the world, no matter what you read here, I’m your best friend.
If I were to ask you to name the movie in which a struggling model/actress cons everyone by announcing that a business tycoon – whom she doesn't know from Adam – was her boyfriend, and the irate billionaire, while investigating the matter, goes on to fall in love with her, chances are, you would stop me right there and come up with the answer – Ghajini. And chances are, I will accuse you of short-term memory loss, because the movie I'm referring to is Sajan (not to be confused with Saajan, the Sanjay-Salman-Madhuri starrer), released in 1969.
Incidentally the same plot was used by Basu Chatterjee in the early 80s, in Pasand Apni Apni. Wait, there's more.
Sajan was a portmanteau of two plots, the first half (as mentioned above) inspired by Happy Go Lovely, a 1951 British film, and the second half, by I Killed the Count, another British film released in 1939.
Considering the fact that Ghajini was originally (does that word really fit in here anymore?) a Tamil movie, one sees the seamless, permission-less, guiltless rip-off of a story (or two), across decades, continents and languages.
That's how easy plagiarism is.
And to think that the advertising industry has been struggling with it and dragging parties to court over copy-paste activities…
The first fundamental question that comes to mind is, why such a Tharooresque word for ripping off? Isn't there a simpler word that even art directors can understand?
But then, it’s a fact that the word 'copy' has already come to mean something else in advertising. (Heck, even trashy words like gutter have found their space in advertising, so...)
The next obvious question is, why are we so poor at plagiarism? Why does it become so evident the minute something is lifted? We've mastered scam ads. We've outdone ourselves in recycling creatives. We've even passed off briefs as headlines. So then, why are we landing with court cases the minute someone says the p-word?
Perhaps, we need to pay a little attention to the extenuating factors that force agencies to be inspired by what they see around them. Perhaps, ad clubs and watchdog associations in the advertising industry need to seek exemption from legal hassles and penalties under the following forced majeure clauses:
1. The art director didn't turn up today…
You can’t blame an agency for wanting to keep its snarky client happy with numerous options. Nor can you blame an art director for nursing a hangover after attending his best friend’s bachelor bash. At such times, it’s okay for everything to look like everything else.
2. There wasn't enough time between jobs.
There are two things every creative team deserves, besides a salary and the occasional weekend, that is. One is time and the other, budgets. Deny them both and you might see the Ctrl C – Ctrl V phenomenon quite often.
3. We were all at the same pub, and…
Sometimes, an idea just flies – and infects many creative minds. In such cases, don’t shoot the messenger. Instead, blame the idea.
4. The revenge of the freelancer.
When a freelancer is hired and not paid for his work because the client has put the job on hold or because the estimates are yet to be signed or… It doesn’t matter what the reason is, but hell hath no fury like a freelancer scorned.
5. The idea was too good, so it was sold twice.
It doesn’t matter if your brand is the cause of the problem or the solution to it, if the idea helps increase sales, it’s time to get your hands dirty.
But what about a clean conscience? That comes after the product window.
6. It’s not about the idea – it’s about the execution.
It’s unrealistic to expect your creative team to come up with A for Avocado just because the rest of the ad world says A for Apple. (Besides, as your favourite servicing person will ask, will the common man know what an avocado is?) So, when a crescent moon against a dark background says night, who are we to argue? Brands may say the same thing, but it’s all about how you say it.
7. It’s not about the execution – it’s about the idea.
Just because Amaron was one of the first to do a claymation TVC, not all claymation work is a rip-off. Brands may say it in a similar way, it’s all about what you say.
8. It's the latest rage, so why not?
It’s the in-thing. Everyone’s doing it. So, how can it be plagiarism when we’re all following the same trend?
9. Actually, it was reincarnation.
It happens in movies all the time. An idea is reborn after generations. Sometimes, it’s the new improved version. Occasionally, it’s a chip off the old block.
But it’s a known fact that a cricket fan would give up anything for the game, just as a chocoholic would give anything for his favourite brand. That, across the ages, will never change.
Watch the Parry's Cricket advertisement.
(The author of this guest article is a creative consultant.)