We've got it covered: Why advertising should fess up to doing cover versions

We've got it covered: Why advertising should fess up to doing cover versions

Following the recent outcry over the provenance of the new Guinness commercial, writer and ex-club DJ Paul Burke wonders whether it's time for the ad industry to follow the music industry's example and admit to doing cover versions.

Made of more

Is, of course, the current Guinness endline. A succinct summary of their strategy: Guinness celebrates those with the confidence to carve their own path. But, oh the irony. The latest Guinness ad (below) has clearly not carved its own path. Instead it appears to have followed a path already well trodden.

Made of this?

It certainly looks that way. There seems more than a coincidental resemblance between the Guinness commercial and this one, from last year, for iD Mobile.

This has led some beastly critics to suggest that, when it comes to originality, the new Guinness ad is actually made of less.

Or made of this?

Oh Lordy, the plot thickens. Those same critics point out the iD Mobile ad isn’t exactly original either. It was "heavily influenced" by this...

And it is, of course, on YouTube that all sorts of "influences" can be found.

The wonderful thing about YouTube

Is that it’s free, easy and open to everyone. It’s a huge, unguarded goldmine of inspirational treasures. So ever since its inception, creatives have been unable to resist piling in and plundering the work of others.

The terrible thing about YouTube

Is that it’s free, easy and open to everyone. So if you’ve helped yourself to vital elements of work that isn’t yours, there’s a good chance that someone, somewhere will know what you’ve done. And once your crime is made public, you run the risk of ridicule.

It’s nothing new

I’m not referring to Guinness or iD Mobile, but to every other creative endeavour. In a fascinating new book called Beg, Steal and Borrow, Robert Shore argues that plagiarism has always been central to the creative process. What matters is not where you find an idea, but where you take it.

Outside of advertising, people aren’t as fixated on originality. They readily accept that old ideas are routinely dusted off, re-conditioned and re-used. In the West End, nobody bats an eyelid at another new production of Hamlet, Tosca or 42nd Street. At the cinema, a new version of Murder on the Orient Express is about to be released. People will go and see it, even though they already know whodunnit.

But whodunnit first?

That’s the question that still obsesses the advertising industry. People in this business behave as though agencies only ever produce wholly original work when we all know otherwise. Every fortnight Private Eye fills its "Ad Nauseam" section with examples of plagiarism. As did that savagely funny and much missed website Copyc*nts. If creatives just acknowledged their sources, yes, they’d still be copyists – but at least they wouldn’t be c*nts. So it’s probably time we just admitted that a hefty proportion of ads are simply...

Cover versions

Isn’t that what the Guinness ad is? A cover version? Beautifully shot and strategically sound, I think it’s better than the original. Better even than the original original, as is often the case with covers. I’ve been through my crates of old vinyl and dug out a few examples: Madness, Cyndi Lauper, Patsy Cline, Marvin Gaye and Natalie Imbruglia took these songs and made them their own. So if you thought theirs were the original versions, think again.

It Must Be Love
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Be honest about your dishonesty

And then the dishonesty disappears. No one will care that you’re releasing a cover version of an old ad as long as you admit it. Because if you don’t...

You become Rod Stewart

Or Ray Parker Jr...

Or serial offender Paul Weller...

The ghost of an old idea

With Halloween approaching, I’m reminded of my favourite piece of blatant piracy, all the more impressive because it rips off one of the most famous records ever made.

I mixed this track out of Thriller at countless Halloween parties. Not exactly difficult given that it’s practically the same tune, but did anyone on the dance floor object? Did they stop dancing and cry out "Hey, wait a minute! That’s a rip-off. It’s been done before."

Of course they didn’t. They thought it was fantastic. And when people see the Guinness ad, that will be their reaction too.

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