Creative or Re-creative?

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So the saying goes. But when that imitation becomes a direct lift of concept and content, is it flattery or is it something else? This question is begat with a new ad for an organization called GrassIsNotGreener.Com, who recently ran a full page ad in The New York Times to caution against widespread legalization of marijuana, and protest recent supportive editorials.

The ad uses a headline comprised of the two words “Perception” and “Reality.” [If it sounds familiar, you’re probably over 40 years old and in the marketing business. More on that in a moment.]

Cleverly art directed, the “perception” typography sits adjacent to an inset head shot of a semi-cute 20-something long-haired bandana-wearing stoner dude with a 2-day scruff (just long enough to denote slacker, but too short to pass for intended hipster stubble.)

The “reality” typography sits two inches below, and we see that the main image of the ad is that of a power-suit sporting corporate executive at the head of a board room table. The obligatory wristwatch, broad single Windsor, a rocks tumbler filled with spring water, and the latest quarterly earnings report comprise the modest styling of the shot.SAM_ad_full_page_NYT_11.55x21_31Jul14_FINAL-1

The copy is strong, and gets to its points quickly and clearly. Not a word wasted, and they took a firm shot at The New York Times along the way. They’re also borrowing a lot of negative equity from the tobacco industry, which is also hinted at in the copy.

All in all, this is a very good ad. It says, “hey…you think this one thing, but there’s another really important thing going on that you may not be aware of…so we’re here to make you more aware.”

Here’s the problem: it’s using a creative concept that’s been done before. And when I say “using,” I mean, damn-near-exactly DUPLICATING a creative approach that was done some 30 years ago. What further complicates this issue is that it wasn’t some obscure little creative execution that no one saw…this was a campaign (props to Fallon McElligott as they were known at the time,) that appeared in Advertising Age, among other publications, ran for a decade, won every major award known to man and other species, and was wildly successful for its client, Rolling Stone. (To add further props, it was a b-to-b campaign, a category in which people are still arguing “you can’t be super creative.” Right.)

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[In case you’re interested, GrassIsNotGreener.com is supported by a group called ProjectSAM, [which stands for “smart approaches to marijuana,”] founded by former government officials and comprised of several medical, legal and volunteer organizations.]

But wait…there’s more. It’s not just that this ad directly lifts this concept. Boyd Communications, based in Shrieveport, LA, used the same (exact) concept for their client CryoLife to demonstrate that most people’s perceptions about age and cardiac valve transplants are wrong. Does it work to crystallize the point? Yes, extremely well. And while there’s nothing new under the sun in advertising, they could have used that helpful, “hey there’s more to know about this subject” approach without using the same exact words, no?

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And it’s not like this hasn’t happened before over the last 100 years or so – it has, countless times. Big popular executions and little-known local work gets riffed on and ripped off all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes, strong ideas simply resemble each other.

Advertising – especially creative strategy and execution – is about finding an effective “way in” to consumer perceptions. So when that way in has been paved on the efforts and talents of someone else, is that cool? I’m not sure. But when you use the exact same words, for the exact same ends, that is to say, when your creative is actually re-creative, we may have to start asking the question “what’s the compensation package for credit?”

Hype Reaches New Heights

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was an article about the “Freedom Tower” claiming that, with one magic beam being installed today, it will become New York City’s tallest building.

Wow!  Isn’t that SO exciting?  Isn’t that a major accomplishment?  Isn’t that something that should be all over the news?

Actually, no.  It’s total hype.  Or to borrow my favorite new phrase from Tom Scott and his anti-Klout website Klouchebag.com, it’s total asshattery. And frankly, nobody cares.

So let’s explore why.

In marketing, celebrating milestones is very powerful, and can actually help in creating promotional punch.  Some brand-focused events are worth celebrating:  an anniversary, a milestone, a celebration of something or someone special.

Promoting such milestones can add color and character to your overall marketing plan.  Mostly, it can help you create discernible distance between you and your nearest competitors (or would-be competitors if that’s the case,) and importantly, it can create more top-of-mind awareness, even if it’s temporary.

But, as with almost everything in marketing, publicizing such an accomplishment doesn’t hold much weight if it doesn’t have an explicit VALUE to your consumer.  Seriously.  If the consumer is not at the very center of this milestone, then why bother?

Nobody cares if your millionth vehicle just rolled off the assembly line at your Alabama plant.  (Good for your shareholders, maybe.  But there’s no consumer benefit there.)

Nobody cares if you just flipped your billionth burger.
(Nice story for the trades, maybe.  But there’s no consumer benefit there.)

And REALLY nobody cares if your unfinished building is about to (technically) become the tallest in the city.  Especially when it’s still a construction site, is likely unoccupiable for at least another year, and is, oh, about 9 years too late to the party.  Nobody cares about that except maybe the developer who is hoping against hope to sell real estate on the uppermost floors or the mayor’s office that loves/needs a feel-good story about…actually, there’s nothing really about this building that makes anyone in New York City feel good.  Scratch that.

But the consumer (in this case we’ll identify the consumer as two groups:  the New York City area residents who are still rocked and spooked by what happened down there more than 11 years ago, and potential renters/leasers of the office space being created in that building,) could really care less.  First off, we’re measuring the top of this construction site against the top of the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  So, in that case, using this logic, with the shoes I’m wearing today, I’m actually one inch taller than the 6’ 11” New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire.  (Top of my head to bottom of his goatee.  Whatevs.)

Let’s face it, The Freedom Tower is an epic fail of skyscraper proportions.  It’s a trite name.  (It’s so lame, they’re quietly going about a re-branding–before it even opens–to One World Trade Center.) It’s got trite features (including ultimately standing at 1776 feet tall upon completion of the spire. More on that in a moment.)  In response to the devastating attacks of September 2001, it’s a towering symbol of cowardice and compromise.

Now on the topic of height, if you really look under the hood, the building itself isn’t really that tall.  The spire/needle thingy that will top the building is 408 feet tall (that’s 40 stories, kids.)  An article on the AP website gives you some more background on this topic.

Here’s a rule of thumb: don’t bother promoting an anniversary, a milestone, an anything unless it has a built in BENEFIT to your consumer.  Celebrating your 100 year anniversary?  Nobody cares, unless you’re giving me a $100 rebate on any purchase of a major appliance.  Now the leading provider of toner in the laser printer category?  Great – but only if you send me my next refill for free.  And so on.  (I know I’m just using retail promotion examples, but you could do something good for the environment; something cool for charity; something that makes me think more highly of the brand and reminds me why I might prefer it.)

I once wrote that a marketing “gimmick” is something that focuses on the marketer and not the consumer.  And that’s exactly what’s going on here.  If you run a brand (a restaurant, a credit card, a line of clothing, a piece of technology, a building…just about ANYTHING,) keep the focus on your consumer.  Especially when it comes time to celebrate.  Otherwise, it may be the last milestone you promote.

Article first published as Hype Reaches New Heights on Technorati.