Tuesday, January 17, 2006

you stole my idea!

Here's an interesting web site that has side-by-side comparisons of stolen ad campaigns That is, these are different print campaign ads where one or more agencies have more or less stolen the idea from someone else. The site is entirely in French, but the pictures tell the whole story.

Many of these ads are obvious thefts: the original ad will be by a large ad agency for a client with a huge brand, while the later ad is for a small company and by an ad agency you cannot find with Google. It is easy to identify the ad burglar in this type of case.

This type of thievery is not illegal. Although it probably isn't highlighted on the relevant resumes, I doubt the practice is even immoral, not when compared with the casual deceit of advertising in general. (For instance, I used a certain brand of razors for years, and not once during that period did a beautiful model hang about my neck while I shaved, begging me to satisfy her. I kept careful notes and I can back this assertion up in court.)

But what does it mean when all four parties, the two ad agencies and the two clients, are all major operations, all of whom should know better? In that case, it's impossible to tell the difference between a lazy, contemptible thief, and two ordinary, equally conscientious ad writers who just happened to have the same nifty idea at approximately the same time.

Great ideas can occur to multiple people, simultaneously. There are some people who make the case that Einstein did nothing unusual when he came up with the Special Theory of Relativity. They believe that the derivation of E = mc2 was fairly obvious from well-known work at the time, such as the Lorentz Transformation. In this view, another accomplished physicist would have discovered the first theory relatively quickly. To the extent I understand this issue, it seems plausible. I can feel the anguish of those other, forgotten physicists, since I personally invented football's Statue of Liberty play at the tender age of ten. I was devastated to be told, approximately the same day, that other football theoreticians had been on this ground long before me. Science is hard.

It's much easier for great ideas to be invented simultaneously when the constituent elements of these ideas are widely available. Even though the ad comparison site only concerns itself with advertising details, it is clear sign of how much things have changed and will continue to change. An online world is just different, with untold possibilities deriving from the emergent behavior of so many people online and interacting constantly. In the case of the ads, we can not only create the duplicate work, but we have enough capacity to compare the duplicates as they arise.

We can all see and understand the story behind a pregnant model in a swimsuit next to a car — it's a family van now, get it? It's also a gentle meta-joke about the advertising industry's penchant for putting the sexy babe next to the hot wheels. Meta-jokes not only amuse the ad writers themselves, they conveniently flatter the audience for being smart enough to understand the joke in the first place.

Everyone can understand the advertising industry, because our culture is saturated in advertising, and it's basic stuff that appeals to common needs. Consider then how much is happening now that is not generally understood, but is being created in the exact same way by the hyper-connected and hyper-active scientists of the world, each in their respective fields. Astronomical observatories in Australia are automatically sending data to interested observers around the globe. Small hospitals routinely send MRI scans to radiologists at research universities for consultation. What was impossible a few years ago is now routine, even boring.

As a technological optimist, increased connectivity like this makes me happy. There are more Galileos talking to more Einsteins now than ever before, and this number will only increase.

(Original link courtesy of BoingBoing.net)


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