Plagiarism in advertising: Copywriting legend Indra Sinha from the UK shares his views

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The discussion on plagiarism and copy-paste creativity in advertising continues with this post. Looks like my earlier post has struck a chord, with the kind of response I have received. Everyone has, at least once in their life, had their idea stolen, borrowed, killed only to be resurrected again with someone else’s name on it.

An interesting, almost ironic, thing happened right after I posted my content online. Zeid Nasser of MediaMe.com, a friend and fellow ad blogger in the region, re-posted my post, almost in its entirety, on his home page with a link back to my blog. (Thanks, Zeid.) The post has been titled ‘Plagiarism in the Middle East on the rise‘ which I have asked Zeid to reconsider since my post is about the ad industry not the Middle East. Interesting how far one post can go on the net, isn’t it?

I was also asked by a member of the Arabic media to comment on this issue. Good to know the interest generated by this theme. As I had written, plagiarism is a relevant issue that needs to be talked about. The post might have made some creative directors uncomfortable. Cool.

The most amazing part has been the mail sent in by Indra Sinha. He is a copywriting legend and a Booker Prize nominee who needs no introduction. His work for Amnesty International and Metropolitan Police will have any ad lover mesmerised. I would even go so far as to say that Indra is what young copywriters may want to be when they grow up. And this is what Indra wrote to me that I would like to share with you:

When I was fairly new to advertising I learned that a senior copywriter at the small agency I started at was toting round some of my work in her portfolio. I wasn’t angry. It was a sort of compliment. I felt sorry for her, if she had nothing better of her own.

Later I understood the fear that older people in creative departments feel every day. You have a large mortgage, children at expensive schools, your daughter wants a horse, but the business is in the doldrums, people are being fired and you have to keep justifying your salary because in the words of the old advertising adage, “You’re only as good as your last ad”.

You are meanwhile pestered by a stream of youngsters begging for a chance to show what they can do. They are willing to work for nothing and will sleep on the office floor. They bring portfolios full of speculative ads for the agency’s most famous campaigns. Occasionally there is even something good.

I’m sure that under those circumstances some people did succumb to the temptation to adopt, or adapt, a good idea. Maybe they didn’t even realise they were doing it.

Advertising ideas famously have many parents. It’s hard when projects are discussed collaboratively over and over again to remember exactly where each thought came from.

Ideas emerge out of one another; as another adland cliché has it, “An idea doesn’t care who has it”. Clients and agency bosses don’t either, but with so much at stake, people in creative departments are jealously protective of anything that looks remotely like an original notion. They go out of their way to avoid being accused of plagiarism and have long memories for famous work.

But sometimes not long enough…

Indra Sinha responding to my post

Indra found my blog post on plagiarism inspiring. “It has kicked off a chain of thought which will lead into movies and literature in future posts,” he has written in his email. In fact, Indra’s put up a fresh post and videos on this topic on his blog.

You’ll also find the link to get Indra’s latest book ‘Animal’s People‘ on his website (www.indrasinha.com) proceeds of which go to support Bhopal Medical Appeal. Indra dedicates much of his time now for social causes, and if you have followed his ads in the earlier days, you’d know how powerful his writing for social and humanitarian causes always has been.

Why am I writing abut Indra so much? Because to me, my friends, this is the other face of the advertising business which we need to see more of. The humane, caring, compasoinate face. Of rare people who haven’t sold their souls out for promoting just about anything that arrives on their desk as a brief.

We’ve seen enough of the fake, insecure, plagiarising peacocks and prima donnas in our agencies. Let’s see and showcase some real gentlemen (and gentle women). People who are using their skills and talent to make a difference, not just prostituting it to the highest bidder.

Do you know people in the ad business who have a strong enough conscience to say ‘No’ to creating ads for products that they know are harmful or injurious to health? Tell me about them. Let’s showcase them in this blog.

Do you hear a voice in the head saying ‘Don’t’ when you are asked to write an ad with claims that aren’t true?

Would you make an ad for any client as long as you are paid well and on time?

Do you use your creativity to do more than just create ads and sell stuff?

Comments, email and phone lines now open…

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18 Comments

  1. Hi Oliver,

    Welcome. Feel at home. RK Swamy has great work to its credit in India.

    Feel free to call me whenever. It’s you that I could learn from.

    farrukh

    Reply
  2. Oliver

     /  December 30, 2007

    Yes Farrukh, it seems I’m going through a lot of your older posts – they do make good reads… I took the time to backtrack to Indra’s blog too – he’s one of the copywriters I admire most – and Indra is also so right there, the 1985 Levi’s ad (Levis of nothing) sure makes sense to me, pretty much more than the cigar commercial.

    I’m new to Dubai – used to be a Creative Head (copy) with R.K.Swamy BBDO in Mumbai, India (my 10th-something agency, that would make up for about 3-4 years from my total of 12 years’ experience in copywriting)….and have now moved over to Dubai to an ad agency based in the World Trade Center building.

    I’ve joined here since Nov 8th 2007, and am still cleaning up traces of lifted work left by my ‘impressive’ predecessors. They all seem to have been privy to the cleverly hidden ‘award book’ you wrote about. lol……

    Will call you some day, my friend. We need to talk. There’s learning I have to do here, and you teach well.

    Reply
  3. umd

     /  August 13, 2007

    hi farrukh, true, you need not agree with all.
    “copy” means “happy”– is only a statement.

    happiness is only a state of mind, is n’t it, or
    whatever each individual think;

    on that “happy” note i would like to conclude here.

    farrukh, thank you for the pixel space.

    will see again, may be with a comment on another topic.

    Reply
  4. Hi UMD – I might not agree with the ‘copy is happy’ philosophy but you are most welcome to express your opinion, like you have in the comments above.

    farrukh

    Reply
  5. umd

     /  August 12, 2007

    hi farrukh, may be my point was not received correctly or misunderstood. but i am glad you have agreed there are different types of people in the advertising.
    Your judgement about my comments are appalling but it is your blog. peace.

    Reply
  6. Hi UMD,

    The logic of applauding someone’s ‘hard work’ in trying to duplicate others’ ideas again seems to be trying too hard to justify plagiarism.

    To me, it’s a pity people would want to work hard copying things in an industry that tries to avoid what has been done before.

    But of course – it takes all types to make the ad world. So – your comments and thoughts are another angle to this story. Thanks for contributing.

    farrukh

    Reply
  7. umd

     /  August 11, 2007

    hi farrukh, if you think i find it hard to differentiate between invention, innovation, originality and plagiarised material, then the credit goes to the plagiarised stuff, as he/she has worked hard to reach the original quality! may be that is a niche area for budding plagiarists!!

    i did not say everything is open for copy/paste. what i really meant is the origin of an idea is always inspired from the nature which is original and the rest is varied versions of the original as we can call innovation, invention etc, that is all up to creatives for their claims to fame.

    well, sorry, your assumption about plagiarists’ sleeping habits; may be your are right, but i am no one to say on that as i have not met anyone like that, so far.

    of course those who copy and sleeping well at night must consider about intellectual property rights etc.

    Reply
  8. Hi Nabil – welcome and thanks for the kind words.

    farrukh

    Reply
  9. Ha ha… Lirun… I like that… caution on blogs 😉

    Clients do take plagiarism seriously. An agency might lose a million dollar account for it so I don’t think it’s a win-win all the time.

    Of course – there are satires and parodies but such things do not fall under plagiarism because people know the original source.

    farrukh

    Reply
  10. Welcome UMD,

    I see that you find it hard to differentiate between invention, innovation, originality and plagiarised material.

    Your logic seems to be that nothing except nature is original in the world so everything is open for copy-paste creatrivity. Perhaps this is the kind of thinking that helps plagiarists sleep well at night.

    Have you ever considered why there are copyright laws and patent offices, at least in developed countries of the world?

    farrukh

    Reply
  11. Nabil Abdul Rahman

     /  August 9, 2007

    Hi Farrukh,

    A friend recommended your blog. It’s very informative and intelligent.

    Keep it up!

    Reply
  12. of course of course of course i advocate strictly against it and am not suggesting that it is profitable.. this is not legal advice and no one should infringe on copyright..

    🙂

    Reply
  13. mate

    copyright violations in marketing is extremely frequent.. most often they try to conceal it with international markets.. but it happens everywhere.. and the worst part if that if the perpetrators arent sued then they get away with it.. and if they are then they benefit from huge publicity and reach their goal anyway..

    sometimes crime pays.. sux..

    Reply
  14. umd

     /  July 29, 2007

    plagiarism is not a new “concept” in “advertising”.
    i think it is as old as advertising.
    as my old maths teacher once said “copy means happy”!!!

    when we have blackbook, graphis or luerzers archive for inspiration then wonders can happen!

    even come to think of it the words we write,
    is it really owned by us?.
    no. we are just a carrying vehicle, putting it in place, in order.

    it is expected, when creative people move from one country to another theirs/others– accepted/rejected ideas also travel with them.
    there is nothing called original!

    because the original thing is nature and the rest we see around us is result of pure plagiarism!

    Reply
  15. Welcome Vikramaditya – yes, Indra is an inspiration for all of us copywriters who haven’t yet surrendered to the full-bleed visual puns, yet.

    farrukh

    Reply
  16. Vikramaditya

     /  July 18, 2007

    Salutations to Indra Sinha, a true doyen of copy as its is supposed to be written : engaging, thought-provoking and always moving.

    Reply
  17. Hi Zeid,
    Thanks once again for the home page credit. I appreciate it.
    The headline you have given is a good one, even provocative perhaps.
    My point, however, is that I am not implying in my original post that plagiarism is rising in the Middle East. So, from a journalistic perspective, a heading suggesting such a thing becomes misleading and gives undue bad press to our region. Rest, I leave to you to decide.
    Moving on in life… I missed you today at GMR’s internet marketing Masterclass, dude. Wished you were here.
    When are you next in Dubai? Let’s meet up then.
    farrukh

    Reply
  18. You always bring up the important issues Farrukh!

    Of course, when the post showed up on mediaME is started with “Farrukh Naeem” writes …. and links back to you in two places, PLUS I included less than half the post.

    As for the headline, come one man …! Keep the blogging spirit alive, it’s my take on what you wrote, and clearly not the headline you originally wrote.

    Mashiha (Arabic for … let it go dude).

    Reply

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