This week, we reframe what it means for creative work to be original.

The originality in unoriginality

How ignoring the allure of ‘fresh’ ideas could set you free creatively.

Charlie Rosanove


Learning Organisation

3 minute read

The word ‘original’ gets tossed around a lot in Ad Land. But I don’t think we have a good understanding of what it really means. You might think originality can only refer to something you’ve never seen before; a thought that springs from a single mind and breathes new life into the world. But we all know it’s not that simple – so let’s dive into why.

In short
  • Originality is the golden standard in advertising, but it might not be as important as it’s cracked up to be.
  • The unoriginal can become creative with great execution.
  • Old ideas can be used in new ways, combined with one another, or presented to new audiences, giving them a new, original twist.
The challenges of originality

There’s a lot of originality in unoriginality. In fact, some of the best pieces of creative work grew out of unoriginal ideas. Instead of being the first person to think a new thought, originality is really about who can execute that thought the best.

Coming up with an original idea is tough, but doing it the best is even tougher. Ever heard of It was the first social media platform on the net, created all the way back in 19971. After that, a slew of people tried, and eventually failed, to create platforms with the same core purpose (RIP MySpace) until Facebook came along and completely changed the game.

Forget that it’s been done – just do it better

Tech isn’t the only space that sees iterative improvement on unoriginal ideas. One of the best spots from last year’s Superbowl was ‘Don’t Miss Out on Crypto’ starring Larry David. Hilarious, witty and backed up with a hefty dollop of truth, the ad was an automatic hit – but it wasn’t because the idea was anything new. The sentiment of going against the grain is one of advertising’s favourite tropes. Apple’s iconic ‘Here’s to the crazy ones’ was based on the same idea with an extremely similar execution.

Mashing it up

Let’s explore another avenue of unoriginal original thinking: mashing two things together in an unprecedented combination. The Beatles need no introduction, given they’re probably the most influential band of all time. Their album The Magical Mystery Tour blew everyone’s mind with guitar tunes unlike anything anyone had ever heard – except they would have if they had grown up in India. George Harrison changed Western music forever by going to India to learn the sitar, and his mash-up of traditional British rock and the more synthetic Indian sounds of the sitar created its own genre.

“If an existing idea can be remade and improved, it’s just as much an example of original creativity as an entirely new idea.”

New tricks for an old idea

One of the best campaigns currently running is Uber Eats ‘Tonight I’ll be Eating’. A nice, simple line with engaging content, but when you boil it down, it’s basically just celebrities endorsing a product. But pairing two celebrities you haven’t seen together before makes the ads more than just a plain endorsement. I mean, Simon Cowell and The Wiggles together on screen is something I never thought I needed, but boy am I glad I got it.

Same idea, different place

Ned’s new campaign ‘Take it to the Neds Level’ is a fun TVC where a person literally goes to the next level as they smash through the ceiling of their apartment. Going from floor to floor, the ad reveals all the different and quirky people who live in the building. It’s a different take to the usual punter ads. It also takes the premise from DJ snake and Lil Jon’s ‘Turn Down For What’ music video, where someone twerks their way all the way to the bottom of an apartment building. The fact that the two are extremely similar doesn’t really matter, because how many punters would have seen that music video? More to the point, I haven’t seen a single other betting ad do anything like it before.

Originality is in the eye of the beholder

There’s a surprising amount of originality in taking inspiration from something that’s been done before, which means you can’t measure the success of an ad by distinctiveness alone. At the end of the day, advertisers are building brands and making content to engage and entertain people. If it does that, feel free to ignore that anonymous person on Campaign Brief telling people that they’ve seen it all before.

on movie remakes
In its second week of release, Top Gun: Maverick flew through the $500 million mark at the box office. Reviews are far surpassing those of the original 1986 film, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96% (while the original sits at 59%) and critics almost unanimously calling it better than the original.

Written by Charlie Rosanove, editing by Abby Clark, 52 Words by Adelaide Anderson, key visual by Alice Guo, page built by Patrick Brennan & Alice Guo.
  1. Alexandra Samur, The History of Social Media: 29+ Key Moments (22 November 2018) Hootsuite.

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