advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An idea can come from anywhere—as long it’s from the agency.

You hear that in a lot of agencies from various people. The account guy, the receptionist and so on all can hit a walk-off grand slam.

While I do truly support the concept, it’s flawed in practice. The problem with the idea from anywhere logic is reinforced after seeing the story of Jay Schor’s lawsuit against BBDO, a production company and Chrysler over an alleged stolen idea. (Read the complete story background here.)

The resulting back and forth looked like it was leading somewhere, but months later, Chrysler comes out with an altered version of his show claiming they already had one in development.

Along with BBDO, they’re arguing that the idea was not “exactly” the same as the one brought to them originally. The absurdity of that position aside, they’re still probably covered legally because the purity of an idea didn’t have any contract backing it up.


Ideas themselves are not protected, rather the specific executions, let alone having just a verbal agreement to go by. Trust me, without something in writing, memories conveniently fail months later.

But that excuse is one used by agencies and brands who don’t want to pay for concepts. At the very least, it’s patronizing to say a show that looks like yours with a slightly different name is not the same. At worst, it’s unethical bordering on infringement.

Brands have an excuse though.

Most aren’t creative by nature, rather, they’re risk-aversive. For them, it’s about exploiting an existing idea rather then worrying about where it came from. They need to see something that already works before signing off on it.

To them, they want what’s been done because well, it’s already out there.

As for agencies, I don’t care about “homage” or how great creatives “steal” ideas to make something their own. There’s a difference between incorporating visual elements into your work from somewhere else and outright theft of a concept you have no intention of paying for.

Screw homage or the real money at stake with a major brand. Do what’s right and compensate people for their work.

The idea here is, well, ideas, right? They’re either a dime or a dozen, or they’re not. So which is it? The problem with the logic is that just because an idea can come from anywhere, doesn’t mean it’s free.

Forget even compensation for a sec, at the very least, doesn’t the person who came up with it deserve some credit?

In cases like this, the accused fall back on legal interpretations which compensate for ethical lines they crossed a long time ago. Once you tell yourself the idea “really isn’t the same,” it then becomes easier to continue down that path from there on out.

Having said that, I also understand that you can’t foster an environment of creative thinking for brands if, oh, by the way, you need a legal document for each concept you present.

So what do you do? At the risk of raising more questions than answering them, this seems like the heart of the matter.

Having gone through a show development nightmare myself, the one thing I can say when I presented to the network is that I wasn’t coming at it from a legal point of view. I naively believed in the power of ideas.

“An idea can come from...”

I figured “they” would recognize a good idea and work with us as partners. Uh, no. I wasn’t aware then that networks operate differently than the rest of us. They need to feed their pipeline with show concepts wherever they can get them from. The headlines, spin-offs from existing shows or people like me who don’t get it in writing.

Like brands, the purity of a concept is the last thing they think about. Instead, it’s a case of change the idea enough to not get sued and still have something resembling the core idea.

This is the problem with ideas now.

They’re the only things agencies have to separate themselves from the pack. Stories like this conflict with agencies and creatives who say they support a culture of ideas in their purest form. That discussion usually never has money in the equation.

It’s about Big Thinkers and ideas in their purest form man!

Yes, it is. However, someone then goes “That’s a million dollar idea!” Now we’re talking money, and then you see the value agencies really assign here: Ideas are the fuel needed to stay competitive.

But if that’s true, and if the receptionist or a guy off the street made you look like a hero to the client, why wouldn’t you pay for that?

(Image via.)

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