Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

"Good artists copy, great artists steal."

Published 21 Mar, 2020 10:58am

Shahzeb Hasan explores the difference between imitation and inspiration in marketing and advertising.

Photo: https://utopiafiction.com/art-as-imitation/
Photo: https://utopiafiction.com/art-as-imitation/

It is unclear as to whom this quote should be attributed to - some say it was spoken by the great Pablo Picasso, whereas others say it was stated by the late Steve Jobs, an artist in his own right. Even though this quote may have pertained to the world of canvas art, it applies to any sort of creative medium, be it music, literature, film, fashion or even the world of advertising and marketing.

In simpler terms, what it implies is the difference between imitation and inspiration. Here, copying literally means plagiarising, and stealing refers to deriving creative inspiration from the ideas of others. Whereas the former is largely frowned upon, the latter, if done right, can lead to "pure genius".

Truth is that nothing in itself is purely original; whatever the medium and whoever the artiste, we are now more or less exposed to the same sort of stimuli for inspiration; our thoughts, ideas and creativity are molded from the information, data and stimuli that we are consciously or subconsciously exposed to throughout the course of our lives. No idea is completely unique and may have been influenced by the work of others; and there’s nothing wrong with that. What great creatives do is delve deep into their own minds and build upon all the creative ideas they’ve been exposed to in the past, combining them with their own ideation to make something new.

The problem arises when creatives opt for a more indolent approach and precariously flirt with that fine line between imitation and inspiration; often finding themselves falling in the latter. Of late, big fast fashion houses have been most guilty of this crime. Brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 have been notorious over the past few years for blatantly copying designs from not only big luxury but small scale indie brands as well. As a result of their fast fashion business model, streamlined manufacturing and supply chain management, these brands are able to copy a design/trend straight off the runway, marginally tweak it and execute it across their network of stores worldwide in just two weeks; and due to weak trademark and copyright protection laws pertinent to the world of fashion, taking them to task isn’t always easy.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t limited to just foreign/western brands. Many local fashion houses in the near past have indulged in little bit of ‘copying’ themselves; from artistic illustrations to entire outfits and ad campaigns; again finding themselves on the wrong side of that fine line.

In the world of marketing and advertising, brand managers and creative agencies are tasked with the responsibility of coming up with new campaign ideas that will hit the right nerve and resonate with the audience. The process of creative ideation can be long and tedious, involving extensive consumer research trying to break down the demo and psycho graphics of the target audience in the attempt to understand why consumers behave the way do and how to further influence them. An alternative and less demanding approach to this is to just see what similar brands have done in other markets.

For advertisements in Pakistan the closest point of reference has always been thy neighbour, whose advertising industry has set the benchmark for creative ideation and execution. Many MNC brands operating in Pakistan choose to adapt concepts from their Indian counterparts, making it easy to execute a tried and tested ad concept without having to go through the ideation process too extensively.

Local companies unfortunately must go through the process themselves, as they don’t have a global database of campaigns to adapt from. Given time and resource constraints, this inevitably leads to brands and their agencies cutting corners in the creative process and again finding themselves on the wrong side of that proverbial fine line; a recent example of which was a large financial institutions advertisement for an ongoing sports event that was a complete conceptual copy of an Indian telcos campaign for a similar sporting event.

Whereas one could have gotten away with it in the past, the same internet that allows big brands access to numerous references makes it nearly impossible for them to imitate and go un-noticed. And in this age of virality, information moves as swiftly as a forest fire, damaging and destroying reputations in its wake.

Again, the problem isn’t with using other brands as a reference point for inspiration, it lies with the lazy approach towards ideation. Rather than utilizing their own creative juices and delving deep into consumer insights and building upon ideas, they would much rather copy than steal. An easier, less time consuming route to creativity.