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Learn About Copycats from Joe La Pompe

The French Advertising Expert Offers Insight Into the Industry
Posted by Gestalten—08/2016

Advertising expert Joe La Pompe has been quietly unmasking the copycats and coincidental overlaps in commercials from around the world since 1999. Hidden behind a balaclava, La Pompe has anonymously tracked recycled ideas, common concepts, and direct copies, publishing them on his popular blog for the public’s enjoyment. We first met La Pompe when we worked together on Joe La Pompe: 100 Visual Ideas, 1000 Great Ads; we spoke once more with the elusive recluse to celebrate our new book Copy Paste—and to find out if truly original ideas still exist.

Your first book was released over four years ago. Are recycled concepts and recurring themes being used more often or less frequently than before?

I would have liked to be able to say less frequently because my website is well-known now and the Internet is a vastly helpful tool when researching previously existing work, but I notice, on the contrary, that as more advertisements are produced, the greater the chance of ideas being recycled. The field is filled with amnesiacs and the average age is so young that very few have a deep knowledge of what has been produced in the past. For Generation Y, the 1980s are the Middle Ages.

How do you find and identify copycat campaigns? There must be thousands of new advertisements each day.

I keep an eye out for new campaigns every day. I’ve developed a wide knowledge of the advertising field in the 15 years since I first started working on the site. As my website has become more prominent though, I have started to recee more external help. Hundreds of contributors from all over the world give me pointers on an almost daily basis.

Do you think that these duplicates exist as coincidences or copycat campaigns?

It’s impossible to know for sure and I’m very cautious because this is a highly controversial subject—especially if I consider all of the threats I’ve received. Even when caught red-handed, the people behind these so-called copies will always deny that that’s what they are. That is why I’ve added a voting feature under each example I publish online: people can decide whether it’s a shameful copy or an unfortunate coincidence amongst themselves. I also stay away from the word copy when referring to an advertisement that recycles an old idea—I prefer to say “less original” instead.

What’s the funniest copycat campaign that you’ve seen?

There isn’t one single campaign, but rather certain instances that are amusing or that always make me laugh. Like when a very famous brand copies another famous brand’s, or when a client pays two different ad agencies in two different countries only to be presented with the exact same concept—and, consequently, pay two agency fees instead of simply adapting the ad.

Your previous book with us also focused mainly on-page and in-person advertising methods. How has the ubiquity of mobile devices, personal computers, and the internet influenced the role of innovation on the Internet?

I notice that the rise of new media is a factor that multiplies recycling in all its forms. It’s at once an expansion of the territory that creative expression occupies as well as a new platform to endlessly recycle old ideas with the added veneer of modernity. You would be surprised to see the number of campaigns on Twitter that recycle tired puns that you’d see in 1980s’ commercials.

What is an advertising industry secret that most people don’t know, but should?

Today, it’s not possible to “copy” an idea and think that it’ll go unnoticed. Some people still believe it’s possible. When I started my work about 20 years ago, entire creative careers were made that way: you could take from an Indian or Brazilian ad and nobody would notice. That is no longer possible today, as there will always be someone to call them out.

What’s the most original ad campaign that you’ve seen?

It’s difficult to answer as I ultimately see more original campaigns than copied ones. When I started in advertising, great ad sagas had a significant impact on me such as Skittles for its absurdity, Bud Light for its humor, Volkswagen for its intelligent discourse, and Apple for its spectacular side and innovation. I know better than anyone how difficult it is to be truly original, because for a creative it’s only the icing on the cake— you’re mainly asked to be on-point, intelligent, and amusing, while also being sure to stick to the brief and think outside the box, to be intelligible but make it popular, to stay within the budget, and to appeal to the client.

Which advertising tropes are overused? Which need to be retired?

Many creative scenarios and methods of persuasion have been used to exhaustion, and there are always trends that are difficult to escape. If we stopped producing ads with cats, selfies, Instagram filters, and drones, we’d already be moving towards more originality. Creatives behave like sheep: they’re more likely to be followers than trendsetters.  

Are there any original ideas left? 

A few years ago, we were asking whether there was any petrol oil left… and then we ended up finding some elsewhere in other forms. It works the same way with ideas: I actually think the reservoir is inexhaustible.

How can we be more creative in our work and in our lives?

Many books have been written on the subject, but you must understand that an idea is not original simply because you are its author. It’s important to always keep that in mind and to follow the reflex to investigate if an idea already exists. Very few people put in this effort, even though it would avoid a lot of so-called involuntary plagiarism, which is, alas, the most common form. You also can’t be creative and cast a blind eye on what has been done in the past—that’s the best way to repeat it.

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