Is anything 100% original any more?

I was watching TV a few nights ago when a Lexus commercial came on. You may have seen it; the camera follows a drip of petrol as travels very slowly across different interior and exterior surfaces, clinging to everything it touches.

“That’s just like that Castrol GTX ad from the 80s”

I thought immediately.

“Liquid Engineering.”

Before muttering under my breath for the rest of the ad break that there’s nothing new anymore.

Thanks to the power of YouTube you can watch them both yourself and see if you agree with me.

Castrol GTX ad from the 80’s

Lexus commercial

So is it a copy or a coincidence? Yes it’s possible the creative team had never seen the original Castrol commercial – although it remains one of the most memorable ads created by the now defunct Dorlands Advertising. But if it is, at very least, an homage to the original, isn’t imitation supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery?

The concept of originality is actually surprisingly new. It first crept into western culture in the 18th century and was fostered by the artists, writers and thinkers of the Romanticism movement. Prior to that, it was actually common to appreciate similarity, not difference. Shakespeare was proud to proclaim that he avoided “unnecessary invention”.

In law, originality has become an important concept in respect to intellectual property, where creativity and invention have manifest as copyrightable works. One of our clients, Samsung, has been involved in a high profile case involving Apple who had accused it of infringing its iPad design rights with the Samsung Galaxy Tab computers.

In making their claim Apple had asserted that the front face and overall shape of the tablets was the most important factor – rather than the overall design – because users would spend most of their time looking at a tablet’s screen and holding it. In defence Samsung had stated

“We continue to believe that Apple was not the first to design a tablet with a rectangular shape and rounded corners and that the origins of Apple’s registered design features can be found in numerous examples of prior art.”

The Appeal judges sided with Samsung and Apple has now lost a series of lawsuits against Samsung based on the design of their tablets. For their pains Apple was forced to put a prominent announcement on the website admitting they wrongly accused Samsung of being copy cats.

I know that my own creative teams strive for nothing less than originality and fresh creativity in everything they do. For them, there’s nothing more soul destroying to hear that you’ve “seen something similar before” to the idea they’ve just presented.

Yet for some clients, that same familiarity is welcomed. It’s a safety blanket that means if an idea has worked before it must surely work again.

It’s a misconception of course. It doesn’t eliminate risk – only originality.

About Steve

Founder and Creative Director