Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Small is the New Big?

A few years ago, the big agency Able & Baker were then working for pitched for a government advertising project.
The aim was to persuade Australians about to travel overseas to check the safety or otherwise of the countries they were about to visit on a government website.
The prospective client was asking for, and expecting, a big television campaign.
What our agency came up with was a very simple, very inexpensive idea.
Since nearly all overseas travel was now booked or confirmed by email and e-ticket, the idea was to develop a bit of software that slipped inside your booking process.
This bit of software would recognise your destination and provide a direct link on your e-ticket or booking confirmation, just next to the departure time, to the latest safety information about that destination.
For example if we was flying to Mogadishu, the little bit of copy that would read; 'We hope you enjoy your time in Mogadishu, Able & Baker. But just to be on the safe side, check the safety and security conditions in Mogadishu before you fly. Just click here.'
And that was it. The whole pitch. No ads, no big budgets, just a simple little idea that would have cost a few thousand dollars and delivered new traffic to the website by the planeload.
Of course, it never happened. The agency lost the pitch, a television campaign was duly commissioned and nobody I know has ever gone to the government website.
In business, as in life probably, there is a tendency to assume that a big problem requires a big solution. The corollory of this is a desire for proportionality: that big inputs should incite a proportionally big response.
Of course, in reality this is rarely the case. Little ideas can have an influence way beyond their ambition (such as Justin Bieber's mum posting a video of him on YouTube), while big ideas can disappear without a trace.
In Victoria, the government has spent over a billion dollars and five years on the myki ticketing system whose end purpose is, without a trace of irony, to 'save money'. When for a fraction of that cost, you could put conductors on every train which would have the added bonus of making travellers feel more secure.
Here's a terrific TED talk by British adman Rory Sutherland on the subject.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is originality necessary?

In April of this year, Melbourne artist Sam Leach won the prestigious Wynn prize for Australian landscapes. His work, Proposal for Landscaped Cosmos (above), borrowed heavily on the 1660 work Boatmen Moored on the Shore of a Lake (below) by Dutch master Adam Pynacker.

The artist himself was quite unapologetic.

"For quite a while now I've been obsessed with 17th-century Dutch painting," he told The Australian.

"I haven't made any secret of where that painting came from."

In film, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocolypse Now won the Palm d'Or at Cannes despite the plot being an acknoweldged reworking of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

In music, Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher quite openly borrowed from the Beatles. As the man himself says; 'Here's what you do: you pick up your guitar, you rip a few people's tunes off, you swap them round a bit, get your brother in the band, punch his head in every now and again, and it sells.'

Even the great Steve Jobs claimed that 'good artists copy, great artists steal'.

In pretty much every creative endeavour, it's recognised that pure originality doesn't exist. The best we can do is take what is good and make it a little better.

In every creative endeavour except for advertising.

In advertising, we're obsessed with being originality. When you're a junior, you dread your creative director saying of your beautiful idea: 'it's been done before.'

Bloggers on the amusing, pedantic and often vitriolic creative blog Campaign Brief inevitably greet every new campaign with claims and proof of other campaigns with similar if not identical ideas.

The current villain d'jour is Sydney agency DDB whose new 'There's nothing like Australia' TVC bears a remarkable executional resemblance to the award-winning 'Boom-di-Yadah' spot for Discovery channel.

No doubt both agency and client have been on a long, extensive and expensive journey to get to the destination they have. Yet the two spots are near identical in structure and concept.

But does it matter?

If DDB did borrow from Discovery channel why not proudly admit it, like Jobs and Gallagher?

After all it was a successful, popular campaign. Probably not too many of the people being targetted by Tourism Australia would have seen the Discovery channel spot. And if they had, why would it truly matter?

Why, when open plaigiarism is good enough for the major creative minds of our generation, but not good enough for those who use creativity for commercial purposes?