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08/28/00 - Crime Pays

In the previous installment, the blatant plagiarism of Apple Computer's famous "1984" commercial by Global PC was labeled "criminally insane."

It's nuts to expect to build a unique brand personality with another company's advertising. However, if advertising industry recognition is the goal, the copycats might be crazy like a fox.

Just consider two news items that ran within a few weeks of each other in the advertising trades this summer.

One, in ADWEEK, cited a Kelly award-winning Harley-Davidson ad which carries essentially the same headline as a three-year-old Nissan Infiniti ad.

Though the copywriter proclaimed his innocence, it's hard to believe someone working on an automotive account wouldn't have encountered the three year old Infiniti ad in the course of reviewing competitive advertising.

Advertising Age next ran a story about an award-winning transit ad for a British newspaper's jobs section. Displayed across the roof of a bus, this ad won a merit in the 1997 One Show competition.

Now, just a few years later, it shows up as a Careerbuilder.com ad which has gone on to win several awards in its own right. Again, the art director of the Careerbuilder.com version proclaimed her innocence.

Perhaps that's true on a conscious level. But does that innocence extend to never opening the One Show Awards Annual displaying the original ad?

Anyone interested in producing "award winning advertising" is likely to have a shelf of Awards Annuals in their office bookcase. The distinguished work in these tomes is always at hand for those in search of ideas. While the bus concept may not have been hijacked deliberately, its inspiration may have been subconsciously.

Likewise, it's doubtful contest judges would deliberately award entries that closely resembled a winners of recent vintage. However, they may be predisposed to doing so by their exposure to the ads that won originally.

But so what? Neither of the ad trade stories mentioned anything about legal action being taken. No International Ad Tribunal was called to investigate. The whole thing is just shrugged off. It's no big deal. Except for the brands involved.