There is a brilliant book by Mark Earls called “Copy, Copy, Copy” and it gives licence to its readers, and also rules, on how to steal the best of what others do… for your own purpose.
There is also a website called swipefile.com which is a location on the web to gain access to the best advertising for marketers.
Now why have I given you these 2 examples?
Because, in my opinion, the most creative, most original thinkers were NOT that creative or original in the first place.
They were experts at reframing what they had seen come before and repurposed that work to suit their current job.
Don’t believe me?
I have my very own physical, real world swipe file…
It’s a three draw cabinet which is full to the brim and overflowing with advertising, including: print ads, posters, flyers, plus: books full of post it notes marking pages, paragraphs and whole chapters… There are movie posters, loose pieces of paper, thumb drives full of pictures of advertising, and magazines, plus, lots and lots of cd’s of radio commercials from the Mercury Awards, to the Lions and the Australian radio industry. And loads of advertising material from around the world that I have gathered over the past 30+ years.
Yes it looks like an overflowing rubbish bin at times, but, BUT… I really ‘do’ use this when I am stuck, to spark my own ideas, and some of the things that can come out of a dive into the swipe file can be truly illuminating and rewarding.
BUT, this takes time, and you have to take that time to get it right.
LIGHTING LOTS OF FIRES – or On Writing LOTS of DEMO SCRIPTS
I very, very rarely will ever only write one script for a client – instead I am more likely than not going to write between 3 to 5 scripts – then select which one or two are the best to send off to them. One might be straight, cookie cutter radio script – the others will be creative – some what insane and zany – and more often than not – inspired by my swipe file – or by a word, phrase or idea they have said or written in our note sessions that sparked some inspiration in me.
I find that you have to write every idea down – and see what catches your attention – some of those ideas may suck immediately – others not so much, and they might need massaging, pummelling or dragging out the back and leaving in the trash – and yet others will jump off the page and into your ears through the theatre of the mind and capture EXACTLY what you were after.
But if you didn’t start by writing them down – then more likely than not – nothing would happen and you would end up with a dead, flat script.
Hedging all of your bets on one script is like taking a match and trying to light a forest fire, by setting light to one tree only.
You have to set yourself up for success by looking at all of the options and finding what sparks your interest, and what captures your soul.
A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE:
This is where the swipe file comes in – here is an example from earlier in the year…
I was writing a radio script for a surf shop, the brief was a generic branding ad for them.
So not being the surfing type I did a quick 5 minute research hunt on the internet – and nothing inspired me there.
So, I dove into my swipe file.
There on the top of the second draw, was the classic movie on VHS – ‘The Endless Summer’ – I LOVED this as a 21 year old when I was managing a video store. Not for the surf, but for the hilarious Bruce Brown commentary.
I put it on to refresh my memory of the first 2 minutes and the opening lines of the movie – it had me hooked again… “Summer means many different things to different people…” and it went on from there.
YES!, okay – now to tweak it so I can use it in a radio commercial…
I could re-arrange the words, but that’s too obvious.
I want something that will inspire and bounce off the thrill and the fun of surfing.
“Summer means body surfing, boogie boarding, long boarding or surfing… or just soaking up the rays!”
That’s okay, a bit long, and a bit too close to the original for my liking.
So something more scene setting…
“Serene balmy days on tranquil beaches…”
Better but a bit cliché.
“Where does the time go when it’s Summer?”
I like this because it lends itself to launching into details about the shop and seasonal specials – so I ended up writing the spot based on that one line.
I did actually end up writing 5 demo scripts for this client – and only selected 2 to send to them – of which the one with the “where does the time go…” was the one they went with.
I didn’t plagiarise it. Didn’t copy it. But liberated it from the ideas held within my swipe file.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
I urge you to try it yourself.
Go on – start your own – start collecting ads or material that you find interesting – inspiring and perhaps a bit left of centre that you like. Later on down the track (not 30 years later like me I hope) you will find something in there to inspire you when you are coming up with your next campaign.
But, Never, EVER steal directly!
Swipe the concept – borrow the idea, liberate the core message, but don’t copy it word for word.
It will seem false to others, and not work for you – especially if you just slapping your business name in the place of the original name.
PLUS you will be breaking copyright laws, which are a MINEFIELD – so just don’t do it!