So, who tipped off the News of the World about spooky thematic similarities between the much-applauded new John Lewis TV campaign and one made for Italian lingerie brand Calzedonia in 2007? One thing’s for sure: the hacks didn’t find them by casually browsing YouTube for potential copycats.
Despite staunch denials from the Never Knowingly Undersold department store, the likelihood of – shall we call it – “comprehensive inspiration” is hard to deny. Here, helpfully juxtaposed, are two life stories about two toddlers who blossom into attractive brunettes, then get married and have babies. All tastefully arranged to the strains of Billy Joel’s 1977 hit, She’s Always a Woman. All right, there are significant differences. In the case of the John Lewis ad, the story continues into old age and, oh yes, it’s not actually the original Billy Joel but a special version sung by Fyfe Dangerfield from the Guillemots (very close to “direct quotes” in French, perhaps in itself a Freudian slip). Fewer flashes of knickers as well. Then, too, it’s undeniably better crafted and makes more intelligent use of the sound track. In fact, there’s little doubt that Never Knowingly Undersold’s is going to be one of the best regarded UK campaigns of 2010 (all the more creditable since a retailer is the client), whereas the Calzedonia one, though competent, will not have picked up any prizes. But hands up, someone at the ad agency Adam & Eve definitely had prior knowledge.
Now we’ve got that off our chest, does it really matter anyway? Advertising is a trade; there to titivate saleable goods, not create a work of art (although plenty in the industry would like to harbour that delusion). While we’re there, true creativity is extremely rare. I wonder how many Renaissance great masters were happy to pass off their apprentices work as their own? Quite a few, as long as the quality was up to snuff. But we don’t think any the less of them for that.