Pat Law addresses Banyan Tree IWD ad similarity: Can ideation be policed?

Just this week, Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts unveiled its International Women's Day campaign through a photo-series fronted by its female staff. Titled “Female Clichés”, the hospitality group put a positive spin on traditionally negative stereotypes. The campaign was conceptualised by Goodstuph.

Explaining the campaign in a conversation with Marketing, Goodstuph CEO Pat Law said the team drew inspiration from Banyan Tree’s co-founder, Claire Chiang, who said women should not blink in the dark or fear being criticised. Rather, women should be bold, take arrows from detractors by fortifying themselves with convictions based on clear reasoning and personal judgement. Hence, many of its female leaders were pictured with stereotypical tags such as being "demanding" or "belong[ing] in the kitchen" attached next to them. 

Since the launch of the campaign, similarities have been highlighted between this campaign, to one executed by South African financial services company PPS. In its 2018 "Women Acknowledged" campaign for International Women's Day, PPS brought stereotypes faced by women in workplaces to light by presenting it with a different viewpoint. The campaign featured female professionals consisting of accountants, architects, engineers, lawyers, doctors and dieticians. Through a photo-series, these women were pictured alongside the negative stereotypes of them such as "overthinks everything", "belongs in the kitchen", "talks a lot", "only cares about your money" and others. 

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Addressing these comments on similarity head on, Law told Marketing, that since the launch of the Banyan Tree campaign for International Women’s Day this week, it has been brought to her attention that a similar campaign was done by PPS, a financial services company in South Africa, in October 2018. She explained that the campaign for Banyan Tree was conceptualised to celebrate women in a real, and non-stereotypical way for International Women’s Day - a day that originated fighting for women’s rights.

"Visually, we wanted to capture the real women of Banyan Tree in their element at their workplace, in the most authentic way possible. The campaign was executed through a portrait series, paired with phrases commonly used to stereotype women. The campaign we conceived drew a great deal from our experiences growing up as females. Phrases such as 'Girls should learn how to cook because they belong in the kitchen', to how we are 'too opinionated as a woman and should learn when to shut up', and when we raised questions, we should stop overthinking'," she said, adding:

We know we are not the only females with such experiences. Naturally, some of the copy is the same because women in different parts of the world have been on the receiving end of the same discriminatory phrases.

Law added that given the contextual situation, coincidences may occur.

"There is a continual need to debunk female stereotypes and I am pleased Banyan Tree is putting their voice forward. Sincere apologies to PPS for not being aware of their campaign and kudos to them for standing up for women in South Africa," she added. 

Meanwhile, in a statement to Marketing, Banyan Tree said:

“Banyan Tree is deeply committed to celebrating diversity and being a champion for equality. For this year’s International Women’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the amazing achievements of some of the women who have so fearlessly helped to build Banyan Tree. They are inspirations to us all and reinforces the need for everyone to be given the opportunity to chart their own path to success. We stand in support of all women towards an empowered and equal future.”

You can't just Google check design, can you? 

In a conversation with Marketing, creative agency leads acknowledged that with so much work now being produced in the world, most are in one way or another, “inspired”.

Chris Chiu, chief creative officer of DDB, said when it comes to creativity, sometimes two pieces truly can be identical. During his experience judging at Cannes, he explained that judges often saw several campaigns submitted with identical ideas and art direction. “It happens, needless to say. The question is whether it was coincidental,” Chiu said. He added:

Creativity isn’t something you can search on Google. Sure you can cross refer taglines and it's a good practice to do that; but concepts aren't something that can be policed.

Moreover, he explained that depending on the size of the agency, and volume of work, sometimes creative heads don’t get to see all that is created. “You need to trust the people to be honest, be proud of coming up with the work,” he added. Ultimately the onus is always on the creatives to decide where inspiration stops, and imitation begins. Chiu added that should such situations arise out of pure coincidence, the responsibility should fall on both the client and agency to right the wrong, if necessary.

Seconding the statement, Fiona Bartholomeusz, founder of Formul8 added that it is true that with so many mediums and platforms, and examples of stellar work out there, it can sometimes be a thin line to draw between original, and inspired work. But of course, the onus is always on the agency heads to set guidelines on creative ethics, and distill that down to the creative teams. When asked how she tries to minimise instances of similarity in work, she explained that while there are no hard and fast rules, she has learnt to identify the conceptual and creative strengths of the people who work for her.

“I can generally tell if a creative is leaning too much on ideas or work he/she has seen elsewhere because every writer and designer has their own signature style. And I’ll know when something’s amiss. I also make it a point to read up and check online resources to see what the world of advertising is putting out, so if an idea is too polished, too good to be true or seems way too familiar, it’s a warning bell for me to check and clarify where the source of inspiration came from,” she said.

She added that her leadership team constantly drills into their teams that the measure of a good designer or writer is the integrity of the work. Bartholomeusz said while some industries tend to look/sound the same such as beauty and hospitality, some verticals “are so esoteric” that if you see two campaigns that champion the same premise and look markedly similar", then there is a problem.

Weighing in on creativity being inspired Joan Lim, creative director of Wild Advertising added,

I believe everything is inspired. But I also believe that we need to hold ourselves accountable to what we do with the piece of inspiration.

Any agency's responsibility to clients is immense given the agencies are the "guardians of the brand", and need to represent the brand in its uniqueness. As such, a team’s collective wisdom on client work is particularly useful. Lim added that when someone on the team points out that something looks remotely familiar, typically what her team does is either to evolve it or drop it. “There were instances whereby young creatives have come to me with a piece of reference from Pinterest and call it their idea. This truly annoys me,” she said.

To reduce the chance of creating familiar work, Lim said the team “draws inspiration from our client's unique challenges”.  “We put our ideas through a rigorous developmental process, asking ourselves hard questions at every juncture. It takes tenacity to keep pushing and be incredibly dissatisfied. But the results are worth it,” she added.