Why Sustainability Doesn't Apply to Ad Creative

Viewpoint: Recycling Ideas Is Simply Bad for the Business

By Published on .

Tom Sullivan
Tom Sullivan
Isn't it great when you come up with a ridiculously smart idea for your client? When, instead of sweating bullets, you're psyched to get into that first strategy meeting to show off your skills and prove to everyone how creative you are? You can just picture the team high-fiving you, saying: "That's it! You nailed it!"

Then, doesn't it suck when someone on the team says: "Dude ... that's been done before. Blankety-blank agency did that for flippity-flap brand two years ago in Argentina."

Destroyed, you dash to your favorite search engine to find the flippity-flap campaign. And you do. And shit, it does look pretty close.

But you still try to convince everyone -- including yourself -- that your idea is different, even though everyone knows it's not. You just don't wanna let it go. But you have to. You drop it, take a deep breath and start all over.

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As devastating as that roller-coaster of emotions is, there's something that feels even worse.

When you make the choice of doing fantastically clever, original work and see something all-too-similar a year or two later. And that work is done by a bigger agency, for a bigger client, with a bigger budget. They get credit for the idea, and you and your team are left wondering where was the due diligence at their agency?

We've got examples, and chances are, your shop does too.

We created a campaign for a restaurant client called "East of Usual," and now an airline has come out with a new campaign, "North of Expected." Our concept for Taylor guitars looks just like one that's being used in a push for an uber-popular line of smartphones, and a big razor company has new work that's mind-bogglingly similar to our Newcastle Brown Ale work.

Whether the stuff was stolen isn't the point. (In the words of TMZ, "We're just sayin.'")

More importantly, where's that spirit-crushing team member at their agencies? The one who's not afraid to speak up and say, "Dude ... that's been done by blankety-blank agency."

'Cause as much as you might hate them for raining on your parade, it's those individuals who help ensure your agency prides itself on originality and integrity.

After all, our industry is in the idea business. And though we're all for sustainability these days, recycling is for things like paper and plastic cups, not ideas.

And it's not just an integrity issue. It's about your reputation, which directly affects your business. Clients are coming to shops for "original" ideas. Once they see you're just a middleman, they might go straight to the source. Something tells me they felt the same way at Y&R Tel Aviv a couple weeks ago.

Maybe we should start a new awards show. Most blatant "borrow" of the year.

Tom Sullivan is partner and president at Vitro Robertson, which has offices in San Diego and Atlanta.
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