Recycling of ideas: Is it acceptable?

Take a look at these two ads below.

The similarity in this instance is pretty obvious. Both these ads were launched during the haze period and while they might have been for different markets, the idea is fairly similar and both were created by the same agency - Yellow Mango Communications - for different clients.

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This is not a case in isolation but it prompted me to ask this question - is recycling ideas by agencies acceptable?

When questioned by Marketing on the similarities, Yellow Mango Communications lead Alvin Kok explained that while the Malaysia and Singapore team consist of very different individuals, being a collective team, there are similar ideas that pop up from time to time.

Kok explained that the post on Manhattan Fish Market for the Singapore market went up first and in the case of the Carrie ad in Malaysia, the agency simply executed the ad under the client's orders.

“The client conceptualised it and I am certain they could have seen it somewhere else. The ads were using the same tone and manner but were not exactly the same," defended Kok explaining that one was for food delivery, while the other was for a hygiene product.

He, however, assured Marketing that the agency actively takes on different brand strategies for different clients bit what can't be avoided is the similar thought process that runs through the spine of the agency.

“If the entire idea is re-pitched, then I don't think it is quite right. Nonetheless, these ideas belong to the agency until they are being used,” Kok said.

Recycling of ideas: Agencies, should you do it?

With so many ideas being generated every day, let’s be honest, there are bound to be idea overlaps and working on the agency side, churning out ideas day in and day out is no cake walk either. Surely, when a spark of brilliance happens and you come up with the perfect idea for a campaign, only to be shot down by your clients moments later, it would hurt.

What then do you do with those amazing concepts? Do you simply chuck it in the bin and wait for your next moment of genius? Or do you keep it in the back of your mind to pitch it to a braver client.

Pat Law, founder of local creative agency Goodstuph said in instances where both ads are running for different clients, “the agency should be shot in the head for having a misaligned moral compass and given an award for being so mercenary at the same time.”

She added that unless you’re an agency that churns final artworks adapted from global agencies on a daily basis, agencies owe it to client to develop ideas based on the brief on hand. For a creative agency, added Law, the most interesting bit of work lies in the conceptualisation process.

“So very seldom do we dip into the rejected ideas graveyard to bring an idea back to life. But I have to admit, there have been times where we felt very strongly for an idea, and refused to bury it just because one client didn’t get it,” said Law. So what then does Law and her team at GoodStuph do with it?

“For ideas we refuse to bury, we’d keep them in the store room and perhaps even run it on our own,” she said.

Read also: STB gets in agency spat over recycling ideas

Patrick Low, founder and creative director for Goodfellas, however, was of the view that it is “perfectly fine” if one client’s rejected ideas fits another client’s brand and the proposition- and is being used by the latter. Much like Kok, he was of the view that an idea is the creative agency’s product and it has every right to sell its product to whoever it wishes.

“Imagine you are a boutique owner and you have chosen a dress for a customer but for some reason she decided not to buy it. Should you sell it to another suitable customer or throw it away?” he asks.

The concept of recycling of an idea is not new to Singapore. At a debate last year held by Pitchmark, an organisation aiming to protect creators’ intellectual property during pitches by promoting paying pitch fees in Singapore, Nader Tadros, director HP OEM, SEA region, Microsoft said pitch fees in Singapore would probably not work simply because agencies tend to recycle ideas.

Hence, the clients would simply be paying for ideas that have already been sitting in the store room.

“If we are to pay a pitch fee, what is the assurance that the idea created is solely for our organisation and will not be reused or resold to a competitor if we are to reject the idea at that point?” Tadros asked.

This was met with a response from Stephanie Lee, manager, original productions, content development, SingTel who said the idea theft issue is simply the “nature of the business”. This is a common phenomenon and even for an agency, ideas are generated based on “inspiration” from another avenue. With an abundance of images and information readily available, it is often difficult to claim that an idea is completely original, she added.

However she was quick to clarify that while recycling of ideas may be the nature of the business, she was neither in support nor acceptance of it.

Rodrigo Rivas, producer of creative Solutions at CNBC, also seconded Lee. “Being on the content creation side, he said, “It is not hard to often take inspiration from works you admire.”