The Sincerest Form of Larceny
Monday, February 8, 2010There’s a local, and very successful, furniture retailer that has serially co-opted other peoples’ creative in their TV and billboards. Most recently they have used the cut-out- figure style from South Park to represent the three brothers who are principals in the business. They do it rather well. They may have sought permission. I doubt it. But it really doesn’t matter whether they have or not. It’s a kind of abduction. In this case, an entity, barren of ideas, steals somebody’s brilliant, subversive baby and puts it to work selling stuff..... I feel better now.
I hear you shouting, “Satire, Parody, FAIR USE!”, and I reply; even if it’s legal, that doesn’t make it right. Full disclosure: in the past, I have deployed sound-alikes, both voice-over and music at a client’s behest, and, frankly, it’s always made me a little queasy. I routinely warn my clients about possible legal problems, and cite the case of a Maine client who used a Woody Allen sound-alike in a book store spot. Permission wasn’t asked; the client was caught (Mr. Allen’s sister happened to be vacationing in Camden that summer) and the ad was yanked. Very embarrassing.
You might think that Allen was being petty when he sicced his lawyers on a little agency in Maine. I disagree. The Allen persona is a creation, something he spent years fashioning into a unique and successful vehicle. It is not public property.
So where is all this going? Well, there’s a lot of emulation in advertising. Much of it happens, I believe, because a client sees a movie or a TV show or a terrific spot, turns to his agency and says,‘gimme something like that!’ And because we are by profession and inclination enablers, we do.
Let me suggest an alternative. If possible, ask the client, ‘wouldn’t you like something original, something uniquely yours?’ If he or she says no, do what you gotta do.
But if you can help it, don’t short-circuit your own creativity by taking a ride on someone else’s. Be the creative the others copy.
Somebody say Amen.
posted by Martin Gleitsman
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