Couple of days back I dropped by a friend’s place. He is a super-geek working for an IT MNC. He was watching India hammer Sri Lanka in the third cricket test match along with his colleagues. This being an unusual event, India hammering Sri Lanka that is, the decibel levels were way above normal. The only time the noise levels dipped a little was during the commercial break. That was when they recharged their batteries with some beer and by letting off steam against any easy target that came their way. The easy target happened to be ads that was aired with annoyingly high frequency on the screen.
My friend, whose sense of humour could be measured in nanobytes, thought he will add to the fun. He mentioned to his inebriated colleagues that until recent past I was an adman and that I was largely responsible for rendering large sections of India catatonic with the ads I had created. It is true, the catatonic part.
These blokes, whose mouths were in a race with their respective bladders for loss of control, decided to play judge and jury by putting me on the dock on behalf of the entire ad industry. They started grilling me about all things advertising. They wanted to know how commercials were made, monies, impact and so on. These were the kind of questions, many of which, even the most knowledgeable ad and marketing bloke would have found daunting. But then they were dealing with me and my bullshit factory with years of practice was on an overdrive. I laid it on thick by describing research, positioning, scripts, storyboard, producers, budgets etc. When I finished my speech, there was the kind of silence wherein you could even hear an ant fart.
Then one of them burped and said with his tongue rolling out-of-control, “whyyy ish everytheeng shame?” (Translation: Why the f*ck does everything look the same?)
It was true. In a short span of time we saw ads for different brands in the same categories all looking the same. The only ad that was interesting and memorable was the Vodafone series. Continuing my role as a defendant, I gave them a corny answer for this obvious lack of differentiation amongst ads. I said something to the effect that “different people can have the same creative idea”. It was very evident that I was desperately scrapping the bottom of my bullshit barrel and that it was time to make a quiet exit.
Fortunately, the discussion took an interesting turn. They turned their attention to the tech industry and started debating as to how software and other tech stuff did not differ from one company to another. Interestingly, the word they used was ‘mimic’. Then the discussion moved to cars. One bloke said that he had recently purchased a Honda City and that he found very little difference between various car models when he did the homework for buying a car. In fact, the debate only brought to light the fact there were little difference between various products and brands.
Therefore the question, “If everything is the same, where on earth is creativity?”
“Their key insight is that creative ideas can only spread if they're actually adopted by others. Too much creativity, and there's not enough imitation--ideas die on the vine, because there are so many of them and few ever catch fire. For good ideas to spread, there's an optimal balance to be reached between creating and imitating.”
The figure by some gobbledygook magic is that only 30% create and the rest imitate. In my opinion that is a very optimistic figure. In the case of ad industry it is likely to be much lower. Even the scam ads seem to ‘mimic’ one another.
In a different and lighter vein, John Dodds says in a post on big ideas that “probably only fire and alcohol could be classified as a big idea and the rest debatable”. I concur. I might have included the wheel to the list. I am not fussy, though.
So folks, if you copy you are in good (and large) company. So set forth and copy. If you do copy, be smart enough not to get caught. And if you do get caught, be smart enough not to get caught with a bunch of drunks. If you copy, get caught and find yourself in the company of drunks, be kind enough to buy them a round of drinks. Cheers!
(Image courtesy: Olivander)