copy-paste creativity in advertising

Farrukh Naeem

Journalist and Copywriter in Abu Dhabi, UAE


We the creative people in advertising – the creative directors, copywriters, art directors, graphic designers – take great pride in producing original ideas. At least that’s what we claim.

Then we see from amongst us, creatives being caught for copying not just a treatment or idea but entire sentences, phrases, tag lines, layouts with the fonts and visuals. I have even received emails from you, dear readers, alerting me to plagiarised ads. (An ad-blogging friend had sent me a copy of an ad he felt was a rip-off which he couldn’t put on his blog because they were also working for that client.)

The lack of self respect when one simply lifts someone else’s concept and execution is one of the reasons why we the advertising people have earned ourselves the notoriety of being in one of the least respected professions in the world. We have brought this upon us. (That email forward about “Don’t tell my mom I work in advertising…” comes to mind.)

Some of us just can’t help lifting stuff from advertising awards books. I have seen it happening so much, it has almost become an industry norm. Sad.

I remember one creative who kept the awards book he copied from, safely tucked in his drawer. So that no one will ever know where his ‘inspiration’ came from. His best idea was traced back to that book in his drawer.

Perhaps it’s the pressure of winning awards. Perhaps it’s the lack of confidence in some people about creating something world class with their own mind. It’s not what one would expect from an industry like ours, bursting at the seams with highly talented people. We have some of the brightest minds in business in the ad agency cubicles, halls, water cooler areas.

Call me a dreamer, but I am sure many of us in advertising believe that we don’t have to copy things from awards books and other people’s portfolios and websites. Yes, ideas are everywhere. But taking someone’s layout and copy?

And people who get into the habit of copy-paste don’t just stop at ad layouts. I recently came across a profile of an ad man that reads just like mine with exact phrases from my profile, on the same online network, in my own city!

Anyway, this post is about an unethical and unflattering practice that I feel does disservice to our advertising profession. It’s about two buttons on our keyboard – ‘Ctrl’ and ‘C’. Let’s not use them too much.

In the coming days, I plan to have a few more posts on copy-paste creativity in the world of advertising because discussion on this is relevant and needed, specially in the time of the internet which makes plagiarism easy to do. But then, it has also become easier to track. Thank you, Google.

Take the case of this blog as an example – I caught someone copying content from my blog, from as far as Russia, and pasting it as his own writing. Such a content-scraper can be easily banned from their web host on charges of copyright violation and breach of TOS. (Quoting from this blog, as this blog’s copyright notice says, is fine as long as the quote is attributed and linked back to my blog as the source.) I believe in open source and information sharing but am strongly against plagiarism and credit-stealing.

What is your verdict, dear readers?

When does inspiration or benchmarking become plagiarism?

Have you met friends in the profession who feel it’s cool to copy as long as one doesn’t get caught?

Have your ideas and ads been lifted by other creatives who don’t have what it takes but are faking it?

If you are a brand manager or marketer, would you hire a self-professed ‘global creative director‘ who’s been caught stealing ideas from others and passing them as his own?




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Louai Alasfahani

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