Can There Be Plagiarism In Marketing?

Truly unique ideas are all but impossible but you make any idea your own by putting your brand's spin on it.

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By Jim Joseph • Jul 27, 2016

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There's been a lot of talk about plagiarism lately…enough said.

As a one-time student, as a professor, as an industry professional, as a writer and as a conscientious human being I am, of course, against all forms of plagiarism.

While it seems like there are some hard and fast rules about plagiarism in general and some software to help detect/prevent it, there actually is a fairly fine line (if not invisible line) when it comes to plagiarism in marketing.

Exactly what does it mean to copy another brand's marketing work? Where's the line between being inspired by another brand's work and actually straight up plagiarizing it?

Let's explore this topical topic.

Related: Intellectual Property Hullabaloo: The Ethical Quagmire Of Online Content Creation & Your Brand

I'm a big believer that marketing is a spectator sport. We can all learn so much when we watch what brands are doing in the market place, both from their successes, their failures and even just their normal day-to-day activity.

Marketing is a spectator sport, and the more we pay attention the better we hone our own marketing skills.

But there's something implied in that statement that could cross the line into plagiarism. Perhaps.

When we learn from each other's marketing activities, we will inherently and strategically want to apply that learning to our own business and brand. We will of course want to leverage the successes and not repeat the failures of other brand campaigns as well as in their everyday marketing interactions.

"Search and reapply," as I've heard many marketers say.

In theory and in reality, there's nothing wrong with that re-application.

To a point.

We see copy cat marketing all the time. It's inevitable. You can't necessarily patent or protect a creative idea, at least not in every possible way.

Related: What I Learned From Being an Accidental Copycat

But what I'd like to say to our industry is that we should make every effort to make every idea our own. While it's getting more and more impossible to come up with a truly unique new idea, it is infinitely possible to put your own brand's spin on it.

It's ok to be inspired by what you see out there, just don't plagiarize it. Reapply it with what you know will work for your business and your customers.

Make it your own.

When you make it your own then it is your own to use, not anyone else can lay claim to it. That's the essence and the beauty and the creativity of marketing, no two brands or campaigns or programs should be alike even if they were inspired by each other.

Related: What Businesses Should Know About Copyright and Twitter Use

Each brand should apply its own brand essence, emotional benefits, and voice to every idea…whether that idea is brand new or inspired by something in the marketplace.

That will keep you on the clear side of plagiarism.

Jim Joseph

Marketing Master - Author - Blogger - Dad

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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