I was having a healthy debate (ironic, as we were wading through a bucket of sweets he’d bought for trick or treaters) with a friend, yesterday, about people pinching the ideas of others.
His line was; ‘That’s just business’
My line was; ‘Nope – it’s out and out theft’
I think he felt that was a bit strong (and he also went the route of; ‘well how would you prove an idea was yours anyway?’), but here’s why I think it isn’t…
I was, in the main, talking about creative ideas (or, more specifically, creative advertising concepts).
Because creativity is hard to judge, and it’s really hard to get an overall consensus on an idea that is both a creative solution to a brief and one which genuinely works (i.e it’ll result in increased sales for a client, or will raise awareness), it’s rare that great ideas make it to production.
In fact, I’d say that most advertising creatives – even the good ones – will produce a maximum of five absolute gems (ideas that win awards, praise from within their industry, praise from the client etc) in their whole career.
When a young creative comes up with a truly great idea, at a point where they’re not yet established in the industry, it can make or break their career. It could result in them turning a placement / internship into a permanent position, or rising up the ranks, if they’re already employed. It could result in instant recognition, see them regarded as ‘hot property’ in the industry, and it could see them benefit from the wage rises that come with that.
They’ll deserve it, too. It can take years of producing mediocre ideas (sometimes down to the creative, sometimes due to having ideas knocked back by clients who don’t want to take a risk, sometimes due to an agency not wanting to take a risk), having no status in the industry, and earning an ‘okay’ wage, before one brilliant idea finally gets out there.
That aside, a truly great creative idea / campaign can be worth millions of pounds to a company/client, in terms of the sales it generates and the brand awareness it creates.
So… for an individual, creative team, organisation, or agency to steal an idea from a creative, then present it as their own, is – for me – unforgivable, and straight up theft.
If a young creative / creative team visits an ad agency (or a client), presents ideas in their portfolio, gets told that they’re not quite ready to join the agency yet, or their ideas aren’t good enough … then sees one of those ideas, a few months on (or maybe a year on), as a live ad campaign – perhaps slightly reworked – then that’s disgusting.
That individual / team will have to sit there and watch someone else take the credit for their idea (and the awards, and the wage rises), while still struggling to get into the industry.
It happened when I finished my copywriting and art direction course, at West Herts College. A young creative team went to an agency with a spec idea, for VW, in their folio. It showed how well the car handled, and was in the form of a TV ad involving the car on an ice rink, with paint spraying from the bonnet.
A year after they went into that agency and were rebuffed, they saw that same idea on TV, from the agency … but for BMW.
This is theft. That idea was of value to the individuals (the same as their wallet would be, if you nicked it from their pocket): it would’ve launched their careers, earned them recognition, and earned them a wage. Instead, it did that for the people who stole it.
When you steal something, you then pass it off as your own. That’s what happened in this case: the names of two creatives went on the credits for the advert, but the idea was someone else’s.
The idea was also of significant value to the client it ran for.
The other issue that springs to my mind is: if you’re already in the industry and you’re so devoid of ideas that you have to steal them from others, are you in the right industry? Are you any good at what you do?
What brought all of this on, was a wave of paranoia that washed over me after presenting an idea to a charity, two weeks ago.
I was actually going for a long-term position with them, and, as such, was invited to come up with creative solutions for a brief, with concepts to be presented at interview.
For the first time in about two years, I came up with an idea where I got that feeling: ‘I’ve absolutely nailed this brief!’
The idea was quick, simple, visual, had the potential to go viral, and answered the brief.
Rarely am I arrogant enough to believe that my own ideas are that good that they’re ‘nickable’, but I had a good feeling about this one.
As it turned out, someone else had more / better ad agency contacts than me, so I didn’t get the long-term role with the charity, regardless of the presentation.
This didn’t stop me feeling that my idea was still ‘nickable’, and could easily be reworked, so (as I’ve done in the past) I sent it on to family members, ad agency contacts, and a couple of friends who work in law…. to prove that, as of two weeks ago, the creative idea was mine (it involves roofs).
In truth, I can’t imagine a charity being as unethical as to use someone’s idea and not tell them, and – at the stage I’m at – I shouldn’t have to worry about this kind of stuff anymore, but past experiences (largely those of others) have taught me that it’s better to be cautious.
What a shame it has to be that way.
Make no bones about it; if you pinch someone else’s idea and pass it off as your own – taking the praise, career progression, recognition, and wages they would’ve got – it’s theft.