When Imitation Is Something Other Than Flattery

So the saying goes in the ad business: there’s no such thing as a new idea. The definition of “idea” here is a pretty strict one. Because if enough elements in a particular idea are different from those that were in the reminiscent ones, you’re typically in fair territory. Yet “I’ve seen this before” is not something you ever want to hear during a client presentation. No one wants to run something that’s obviously already been done by someone else. Or so I thought.

I did a double-take when I saw this.

5cbf443995f82.image

Because it looks a lot like this.

cheerios-logo

Actually, it looks exactly like it. I worked on General Mills for years, so maybe I’m closer to Cheerios’ branding than most. But the cereal has been around for almost 80 years. My guess is its brand recognition is pretty high… among everyone, across the country… which I’m imagining would include at least someone who works at Luminary?

Why launch a new podcast brand that looks exactly like a kids’ cereal brand? It was either a. completely deliberate: Cheerios carries the brand attributes for which Luminary wants to be known (some semblance of simplicity, wholesomeness, approachability – my guess because this mix represents an antidote to so many tech companies today, many of which make up Luminary’s competition), and so they ripped off the aesthetic, or b. completely subconscious: the aesthetic they “created” communicated the brand attributes for which Luminary wants to be known, but no one wondered why. If Case A, Luminary has attracted the most ego-less group of marketers in the business. If Case B, humorously contrary to the brand’s name, the most uninformed. Either way, it’s lazy, and it bothers me.

Though I do admit I’m potentially extra sensitive.

Several years ago, I worked on an ad campaign that never saw the light of day. I’ve worked on a lot of those, of course, but in this case it was one of those campaigns that died a painfully slow death. Adoration at the outset, waning excitement as development dragged on, research, revisions, new clients, more revisions… burial. During that time, our agency pitched another business and won. I didn’t see the work that won that pitch until after the fact, however. And it was, objectively, the same campaign I was at that point still trying to sell despite the fact that I was selling yogurt and this newly won brand was gum. I’ve never been so happy to have a campaign die, because had both brands run that work simultaneously, our agency would have been rightfully skewered.

My example is about a ripped off campaign. This is bigger, because it’s a ripped off brand identity. Single White Female kind of stuff. Commoditization is plaguing just about every category, and in my opinion, Brand is the strongest tool companies can use to rise above it. So I don’t care that podcasts and cereals are about as far apart as two categories can be. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but when identity is at stake, I’d characterize it more harshly: theft.

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