However interesting and differentiated your brand strategy, there are apparently only 8 ways to express an idea in advertising. Or at least, that is what I was taught when I was in marketing short trousers. These are:
The Slice of Life
The Borrowed Interest
Shock the Audience
Over the years I have always felt that this list is one short. The Movie Rip-Off (or The Movie, Commercial or Pop-Video Rip-Off to give it its full title) is simple to spot and disappointingly commonplace.
The Movie Rip-Off is simply lazy and insulting of our intelligence. The narrative with which we are being asked to engage has invariably changed little from the original, yet somehow we the viewer are supposed to welcome the introduction of a can of this or a packet of that. Examples include Berocca’s Treadmill Dancing spot that was shamelessly “inspired by” OK Go’s Here It Goes Again.
I caught the latest culprit in this year's Superbowl with Budweiser’s Clydesdale spot. A bloke and his best friend (a horse) are separated and enjoy an emotional reunion many years later. Recognise this story?
I know I'm in a minority (it has apparently become the most viral Superbowl ad of all time) but it fails me how I’m expected to respond. Perhaps if I hadn’t seen Warhorse then I might have thought it a charming take on male friendship. But with box office takings alone of over $134 million, as well as stage, DVD and TV audiences, the narrative is scarcely a surprise to most of us.
Surely, if you are going to “be inspired” by someone else’s content, then you need to take it somewhere it wasn’t already heading. For example, Sir John Hegarty’s brilliant Boddingtons campaigns of yesteryear gently mocked the genre of posh toiletries commercials. Ridley Scott’s 1984 Apple launch ad provided an optimistic twist to George Orwell’s bleak original. Both brought wit or a powerfully relevant brand attitude to surprise the viewer.
So, fellow brand and communications people, if we’re going to be inspired by others’ work, let it inspire us to do something new, fresh and surprising. Let us not just nick it and bask in the reflected glory of the original.