You want originality? How original!

My favourite (and perhaps only) fan, the wonderful Miss Malini has raised the burdensome issue of originality and its place in the Indian advertising industry, demanding an indignant response from the defenders of the creative faith.

It seems the Zoozoos – the Vodafone characters which have made Lalit Modi’s grubby strategy breaks seem almost bearable – themselves bear an incredible likeness to a bunch of characters at stock site fotolia.

hang on... can we talk IPR before we get to the IPL?

hang on... can we talk IPR before we get to the IPL?

Leaving aside skeptical interpretations of the simulacra espoused by postmodernists like Baudrillard, who concluded that “everything has already happened… nothing new can occur”, the questions really are:

-whether we should expect originality in advertising,
-how we would spot it, and
-how (or indeed, if) we have a system in place to reward it.

I had planned on adding a Gallery of Patent Plagiarism to this site but gave up on the idea as it seemed almost naive to demand creative fidelity from a commercial enterprise. Some of the smartest  advertising actually relies on co-opting familiar reference points from culture and works by aligning unfamiliar brands with popular ideas, building positive affinity and demand for products and their purveyors.

The evidence that this works is everywhere – be it the clever manipulation of the Rube Goldberg machine by Honda, the reversal of 1984‘s dystopic vision by Apple, or even the recolouring of the Blue Man Group’s odd genius by Mirinda.

I do agree that we should draw a line when the attempt is so lazy as to borrow – not from disparate sources but from within the industry itself – a practice which is blessed by the leadership at every agency, who provide subscriptions to advertising journals and reference books to lend ‘inspiration’ to their creative rank and file.

The practice of lifting ad concepts is as old as the industry itself. The earliest instance I can think of is the much-loved Amul Girl, who has been providing an original spin on local events in order to keep her brand of butter au courant since 1967 . The team behind the campaign have no compunction in admitting that the moppet was an indigenised version of and response to the Polson butter girl.

Plagiarism extends to other forms of local culture as well – both high and low – from Ram Gopal Verma’s liberal plundering of the Godfather pantheon (I don’t believe he is absolved by admitting as much) to even the venerable Salman Rushide’s most venerable book, Midnight’s Children, which is rumoured to have drawn much inspiration from I. Allan Sealy’s similarly wrought Trotter Nama

And again, when it comes to commerce, the jury is out over whether we do (or should) demand creative integrity over utility.

The second mover, who learns from the designs and mistakes of the pioneer, is usually the victor in many new businesses. The IPL itself represents a copycat’s triumph over the original ICL. This practice adds value – in terms of improved products and services – but it also diminishes the first mover’s desire to risk developing new ideas.

Patents, intellectual property rights and the courts that seek to enforce them can only do so much. Unless consumers stand up for the innovators, cleartrip will blindly win our favour thanks to a utilitarian design ‘borrowed’ from kayak, Yo! China will be able to halt Yo! Sushi from coming to India on trademark concerns although it clearly stole the brand name and attitude of the latter, and the Zoozoos will trip-hop into the sunset of advertising glory as a wildly original concept.

note to self: I do not fully support the thesis that the Zoozoos represent a case of plagiarism. On merit of the value addition (the ‘animation’ of the characters, the obtuse scripts, even the rubberized expressions) alone, I would say that this is, at worst, a case of something borrowed, something new.

note to vodafone: please upgrade your google strategy. official links to the vodafone site don’t show up on pg 1 of a “zoozoo vodafone” search and the “official” zoozoo site which does show up has google ads for airtel running alongside the content


  1. Pingback: Huston We Have a Problem. « Miss Malini

  2. Fabulous. I am also suitably distracted by the Honda commercial now. 🙂

  3. whattothink

    Note to Cleartrip. There’s been an interesting development in liftland:
    Kayak to Bing: Stop Copying Us! – Update
    By Ryan Singel | June 24, 2009 | 6:51 pm |
    Kayak, the popular multi-airline airfare search engine, thinks Microsoft Bing’s new travel search engine looks so much like its own that it’s confusing Kayak users. The travel search company sent Microsoft a legal letter last week telling them to cut it out, has learned.

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