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Is there such a thing as originality?

The recent disengagement of the Department of Tourism (DOT) from leading advertising agency McCann Worldgroup Philippines brings to mind the question: Is there such a thing as originality? Of late, DOT got a lot of offline and online flak resulting from the launch of a new campaign slogan and video conceptualized by McCann that resembled a South African campaign produced three years ago. Both ads centered on a man who visits another country and has a series of exceptional, extraordinary experiences. Both ended by subtly revealing their central character’s disability by way of a telescopic cane pulled out in the final seconds of the commercial.

In an initial statement McCann said, “We acknowledge the feedback that the way this story was told may have similarities with the South African tourism campaign. It is unfortunate that the DOT has been called out and accused of plagiarism, for work we have done to highlight the testimonial of a real retiree. We take full responsibility as all ideas and storyboards presented were conceptualized by McCann Worldgroup Philippines.” The company stressed it had no intention of plagiarizing others’ work.

This recent brouhaha proves the adages that “there is nothing new under the sun” and that “good poets borrow; great poets steal.”  It could be argued that there is no such thing as originality considering that creative work involves the reconditioning of old concepts, which mimic reality. Creators bring together old content in new ways, in new platforms, which can either receive acclaim and achieve success or garner criticism and failure. Originality is often associated with creativity. It is the buzzword these days: what it is, how it is developed, and what are the various ways in which you can express it. Creativity can be likened to the turning of a kaleidoscope. Each turn creates an entirely new pattern, a totally different combination.

• Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Creative ideas are always inspired, coaxed out, and stimulated by other ideas. Creative minds are always drawing on the work of others, consciously or unconsciously.

• Essentially, all concepts are drawn from outside sources. This is what Mark Twain called the “combinatorial nature of creativity,” which is anchored in the principle that good ideas are always the product of collaboration, and that ideas are modified, stretched, or enhanced to meet certain requirements or circumstances. Some literary scholars even believe that Shakespeare wasn’t a solitary genius, but a collaborator, and that his plays are the products of a troop of thespians sitting around, brainstorming, and creatively pooling talents and resources.

• Everyone can be creative. You can find something you love and riff on it, or from research you can discover an insight that changes your outlook and apply it differently. Creativity isn’t beyond the reach of anyone willing to learn from and share with others. Everyone has the capacity to be imaginative, to be inspired, and to feel like you’ve been given a gift and want to give something back in return. All you need to do it is execute it.

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I spoke to several creative minds in the Philippine advertising and marketing communication industry and this is what they said about originality and creativity:

Merlee Jayme, “chairmom” and chief creative officer of Dentsu Jayme Syfu, said, “In the world today, originality can sometimes come from a combination of two old ideas, thus forming a new one. An old idea can also inspire a new execution, or use a different medium or platform and become ‘original’ all together. A story, for example, can inspire a Snapchat idea.”

Jam de Guzman, general manager of Dentsu X, declared, “In the advertising world, it naturally becomes harder and harder to create an original piece of work. However, I still believe that if an insight is grounded and ample research is done, a fresh, original idea can still be created.”

Kazuo Kokei, executive director of Dentsu X, added, “A product, a brand or an execution is usually based on a certain fact or insight. You are affected by a lot of factors in creating things.”

Ricky Gonzales, creative partner in the agency Over The Moon, observed, “Every new idea is inspired, triggered and pushed by an original idea. I think that in this day and age when every idea there is has been explored there are no more honest-to-goodness original ideas. Every new idea we see now is inspired, motivated and triggered by an old idea.”

Ken Lerona, marketing communications senior manager at Arthaland, said, “We only build up on what’s already existing. What we create today is based on the foundation built in the past.”

Aries Estrella, multi-awarded creative director, mused, “Combining two or more existing concepts can create something new. New songs are being composed using only eight notes.”

“Originality is our DNA that sets us apart from others,” declared Ron Jabal, senior adviser of Pageone.ph. “It is what distinguishes between individuals and society. There is always a premium associated and given to an original idea or action.”

Award-winning creative director Art Tence Ruiz averred, “Originality is combining familiar concepts that are usually not associated with one another to form something original. Top-of-mind example is how director Quentin Tarantino combines pop culture references and witty dialogue with violence. Comedy and crime genres are usually not associated with each other, but when combined spells the Tarantino touch. Personally, for me, those who break through barriers without any point of reference are the true originals: Marlon Brando, Alfred Hitchcock, Pablo Picasso, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s, Steve Jobs and others.”

Photographer and former creative director Tony Oquias believes, “If it comes from your deep personal experience, it could be original, because you’re original: nothing is quite like you.”

It is impossible to create things from zero. You only build on what already exists. What you create today is based on foundations built in the past, where insight is grounded and ample research is done.

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com for comments, questions suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

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