“Who nicked my idea?” is one of the eternal post-work pub arguments of the over-refreshed and underappreciated employee. From the traders who keep their stock tips close to their chest in the Square Mile by doing deals on a dozen mobile phones lest prying ears eavesdrop their millions away to the news reporter whose scoop has been scooped by the guy on the next desk – no one likes to have their idea half-inched.
This week, the London advertising agency 18 Feet & Rising filed a claim against Nationwide, Britain’s leading building society, in the High Court and it seems that the clash is based on allegedly stolen goods and nicked ideas. 18 Feet was employed by Nationwide between 2011 and this year to dream up campaigns for screen and print. Nationwide’s business has been estimated at being worth £30m per year.
I can make no judgements here other than to talk generally about the superhuman crappiness of stealing someone else’s idea in a marketplace that is specifically, absolutely, 99 per cent about ideas. In fact, it’s like working in a building society and stealing from customer’s savings accounts. Sure thing; it’s wrong, but it’s also such bad news and bad publicity.
Building societies like to present themselves as the friendly face of a financial sector full of snakes, tax havens and wolves of Wall Street; much of the folklore they like their agencies to spin for them is based on trust, familiarity, belonging to a family. Adverts tend to include scenes of handsome, rustic types giving the very salt of the earth a run for its salty earthiness. There are sentimental homecomings to parlours, sons having their hair ruffled by caring, chunky-sweatered fathers, the overcoming of small fears, coming of age, smiling at bonfires. Yup, there’s a shitload of cliché, but then this is ad-land in which rearranging the rudiments of familiarity is stock-in-trade.
Only the judgement at the High Court will decide what happens in this case, of course, but the story of advertising agencies having their creative stolen for it to turn up in a suspiciously similar form for the client in question is not new. Anyone with an interest in ideas and who owns them should watch this case with interest. All that without mentioning David or Goliath. Until now.
Robert Bound is Monocle’s Culture Editor.