Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Keeping ideas theft-proof in adland

How do creative geniuses hide them from fellow folks? Also, is there any risk if they share the ideas, out of excitement or to simply put them to the test?

"Ideas are funny things...," says BBH India's Russell Barrett, as he lays out a host of reasons why. A couple of days back, a young copywriter posted about a popular detergent brand's new ad, flagging it as a theft, a reiteration of his idea, an original of which he had presented during a test assignment at an agency. The matter has brought to the fore the age-old issue of safekeeping of ideas. How do creative geniuses hide them from fellow folks? Also, is there any risk if they share the ideas, out of excitement or to simply put them to the test?

We ask...

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, chairman and CCO, 82.5 Communications

Every idea usually involves a brand and a client. So, apart from your personal desire to protect it, it is confidential. You can discuss it with somebody in your team. I know cases where a creative person has moved from an agency to another, and an idea, which has been on the table for a long time, got made into a campaign for a different brand. There is always a great temptation when you are excited about an idea to tell your friends about it, but you have to limit your conversations.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay
Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Nowadays, there are Chinese walls between teams, even within agencies, as there is a conflict when two brands are competing in some way. You can't discuss it with other teams, even if they are friends. You can discuss it with family members, who are not from the industry. If you discuss it, you have to accept the risk.

Also, sometimes it's unintentional. You hear an idea and forget about it, and are working on some other brief, but some version of it pops into your head. You may not even remember, but once you've heard it, it somehow gets into your sub-conscious and is interpreted in a slightly different form.

Swati Bhattacharya, CCO, FCB Ulka

Swati Bhattacharya
Swati Bhattacharya

There is no such thing as keeping your ideas safe... You have to know that if they were to go ahead and actually take your ideas after a pitch, and make it with another agency - then, maybe, you can get to sue the client. Otherwise, there is no way to really completely protect it. Anybody can actually get inspired, or take something from your idea and give it just another set of clothes to wear. It is a pretty vulnerable business like that.

Russell Barrett, CCO and managing partner, BBH India

Ideas have been lifted from the time that ideas were first had. It’s not nice, it’s not honest, it’s not unusual. As a creative person, it has happened to me numerous times, but you just have to get on with it. Crack another one and another one after that. Be prolific with your ideas, how long can you be kept down?

Russell Barrett
Russell Barrett

Ideas are funny things, two people from two different continents can have a similar idea at almost the same time. Look at how the 'Mouldy Whopper' idea was thought of by three different creative agencies in three different countries, completely independently. These things happen.

Naturally, you should be careful with whom you share your ideas. Obviously, you should share them with people whose opinion you trust and whose creative ethics you can depend on. They do exist. On the other hand, as someone who goes through multiple portfolios in a month, it’s a responsibility to yourself and young creative talent to be mindful of the source of an idea. It may not be easy, but it is really important that you try.

Finally, my suggestion to young creative people is, 'don't talk ideas, do them'. Once it's created and recorded, it's very difficult to lift it. It doesn't matter how well you execute it. You'll have it in your portfolio. In executing your idea, you’ll realise its limitations, you’ll craft it better and it will feel more complete. If, God forbid, it still gets lifted, carry on with your life. Create more. If you’re creative, you won’t only have two great ideas in your life. You’ll have plenty. Keep making more, keep cracking more, sooner or later you’ll win. And when you’re a big shot creative director, remember how it was when you were just starting out and be decent.

Carlton D'Silva, CEO and CCO, Hungama Digital Services

Carlton D'Silva
Carlton D'Silva

The first bit is, we never talk business when we are out. Even if we do, we never talk ideas, we discuss the industry, instead. When it comes down to clients lifting ideas and assigning them to other agencies, we resist from actually handing over the idea deck. If clients want to actually go through ideas themselves, the summary slide should be sufficient and not the details. With the peers, it's pretty simple – we all are in the business of ideas. We should not be discussing the IP with anyone. If you are discussing the IP with someone, you are asking for it to get lifted. I would suggest to not speak to anyone.

Rahul Jauhari, joint president and CCO, Rediffusion

Rahul Jauhari
Rahul Jauhari

Well, it’s one of those existential questions. So I’ll say, the best way to safeguard an idea is to share it only with the people you trust. Creative people do share ideas, bounce them off others, or discuss to enrich them. Usually, it’s with people whose inputs you value. In a workshop or panel, it’s in good faith. And if it’s in a bar over drinks with someone you barely know, well, then, in God we trust. But humour aside, if someone’s a professional idea stealer, there’s no way you can stop them from stealing it. Personally, I'd like to believe there are very few such people in our industry.