Let’s play Creative Director.

Okay. Here’s the situation:

Let’s say a creative team under your supervision brings you an ad concept for Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape that features a new tagline:

Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape. Pull Off a Better Paint Job.

It’s a clever tagline with a fun play on the phrase “pull it off”, since it refers to pulling the tape off the wall after you’re done painting, as well as highlighting the benefit that the tape does such a good job, it’s instrumental in the resulting accomplishment: “a better paint job.” Not an easy thing to “pull off.”


Except, the ACD, who is in the room, feels compelled to point out that there was an ad campaign for PAM cooking spray, that debuted six or seven years ago, which carried the tagline:

PAM helps you pull it off. In this case, the “pull it off” refers to pulling food off the surface of the pan because PAM is a good lubricant, as well as pulling off a successful family meal because the food doesn’t get charred and cleanup after the meal is much easier, sans all that scraping. This campaign is still active, though the PAM folks have been modifying the tagline lately to fit whatever the latest message or benefit they’re touting.

Hmmm . . .

How do you assess this situation? Is this a problem? Or is it nothing to worry about? Is the one tagline too close to the other, so it looks like the idea is being stolen?

OR, since cooking spray is in a very different product category from painter’s tape, is this excusable?

OR is there a statute of limitations on clever plays on words in ads based on the oft-invoked copout, “There are no new ideas under the sun.”

OR, another way to look at it: If a copywriter borrows(?) rips off(?) an idea (in the forest or in the cubicle, it doesn’t really matter), and no one notices, is it idea theft? It could well be that most, perhaps almost all, viewers of this new tagline won’t recall the PAM tagline, so they’ll never realize that the “pull it off” play was “borrowed.”

Does it matter if the copywriter was completely ignorant of the pre-existing “pull it off” tagline for PAM? It can’t be stealing if there’s no prior knowledge and intent, right?

You’re the CD. You have to make the call. Is it kosher? Do you give the ad with this tagline the go ahead, or do you nix it based on being too close to the PAM ad?

This kind of question comes up often enough in the offices of creative directors. Lord knows, I’ve been on the receiving end as well as the executioner’s end of this dilemma more than once in my agency days. Good ideas are rare enough that it’s very, very hard to just kill one off without a compelling reason.

It’s SO tempting to find a way to justify using a good idea, to talk yourself into thinking that there’s enough separation or difference that going with this tagline is justified. But is it really ok? Or is it kind of sleazy and cheaty?

I know where I come down. Do you?


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