Huggies and OHBaby! get out the tracing paper for personalised magazines campaign

As Tequila\’s creative director Ross Howard wrote in a past issue of NZ Marketing, there’s a fine line between creative theft and creative inspiration. And a recent release from Kimberley-Clark’s Huggies brand about a campaign offering new parents personalised OHBaby! magazines got us wondering about the rather thorny issue of creative IP. 

Starting March 19, parents can create their newborn baby’s own magazine cover at www.huggies.co.nz and have it sent out. The memento, which also celebrates the 20 year anniversary of Huggies’ support for Plunket and the $6.2 million it has donated in that time, comes complete with a list of 2012 memorable events to recall the year of the baby’s birth and spaces for parents to record their baby’s own personal milestones.

“Babies grow and change so quickly and the opportunity to capture the earliest memories in photos and in words is fleeting,” says Geeta Uka of Huggies. “So we thought we’d help families create a special keepsake and celebrate their newborns in a unique way.”

It’s a good idea. But unique is pushing it. ACP, Special Group, Naked and Salt Interactive did almost exactly this for ecostore in Little Treasures magazine last year. It was very popular, well-publicised and fairly well-awarded, so playing the ‘we didn’t know’ card would be difficult to swallow.

Accusations are regularly levelled at agencies for the supposed ripping-off of existing ideas when similarities are found. So is it wrong to copy? Or is originality over-valued?

We’ll leave it to Howard to try and clear that one up:

The late, great Steve Jobs infamously quoted Picasso during an interview in 1994, when he said ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’. And in many ways the statement became more synonymous with the founder of Apple than with the great Spaniard

… In the context of advertising, the notion of ‘copying’ is also a poignant, and frequently discussed topic. It lives, breathes and survives on the intellectual property generated by planners and creatives (and anyone else inside the agency building with a good idea).

Firstly, let’s first put forward the view that we are all products of our environment. Even when we are deliberately trying to think of something completely new, at a subconscious level we imbue our work and ideas with the cultural ingredients that we have consumed in our lives.

Also, as professionals operating in a social and cultural landscape, we deliberately leverage cultural references to speak to our audiences. Sometimes this might be using colloquialisms in copy, an art direction that is aligned with a sub-culture, or a theme or narrative style that is similar to another.

When we do this overtly, to the point that we want the audience to make the connection, we call this homage. When we want the connection to be an amusing one, it becomes parody. When we attempt to deliberately conceal this, or fail to acknowledge it, we run the risk of being accused of stealing or ripping off a reference point.

… Copying isn’t bad as an exercise, but it’s bad as an outcome. If you’ve copied something, you haven’t actually come up with an idea to arrive at it, you probably just researched, or Google searched it. Literally anyone can copy. Knowing what is worth copying is of meagre value and can’t sustain or build our industry.

Stealing, however, makes the property yours, and whilst in most cases the ethics of stealing are regarded as poor, in this context it means something different.

How do you make an idea yours? By applying enough change and influence on how you transformed the idea so it can be regarded as original. This is most easily done by either combining ideas together, or by changing the context in which an idea can operate.

A song may inspire some copy, a famous painting may provide the perfect colour pallet for a new design and an idea in a brainstorm may morph into another brief and provide a completely new approach. This notion of stealing is what so much of the progress of the world has been predicated upon. I won’t even bother with Newton’s “shoulders of giants” quote, other than to note it was paraphrased from someone else.

So whilst we all should sample culture, the question that we must constantly ask ourselves is “do we own the creative product we’re giving our clients”, or did we just “borrow it”.

Let us know what you think. Copying or stealing? Above board or underhanded?

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