Whose idea is it anyway? | The Financial Express

Whose idea is it anyway?

MullenLowe Lintas-Motilal Oswal spat turns the spotlight on idea ownership

Whose idea is it anyway?
Santhosh Padhi, CCO, Wieden+ Kennedy India, hopes the industry will learn lessons that will help make relationships between clients and agencies more transparent

MullenLowe Lintas Group and Motilal Oswal Financial Services’ recent and not-so-rare spat over ownership of an advertising idea has done the industry one big favour. It has brought a crucial question to the fore: Who owns an advertising idea – is it the agency or the brand/client?

As is the practice now, the client (brand) is deemed the “content producer”, which essentially means it has the final word on the ownership of an idea and it is laid down as such in most contracts. The agency is the idea creator, parent, and “content supplier”. The problem arises when a client fails to give credit where it is due, especially if it switches agencies and proceeds with the idea suggested by the first agency.

So should the creative idea be dropped by the marketer as soon as it changes the ad agency? Jackie J. Thakkar, supervising creative producer, Viacom18 Media, says the ethical thing for a brand or a client to do is to not use an idea if it isn’t going forward with the agency that pitched it. But while an agency can make a hue and cry about it in the end, most contracts are designed to give the clients benefit of the doubt.

Our idea, our assets

In the recent case, Motilal Oswal released an advertisement that is allegedly a replica of their own campaign from 2017, which was conceptualised by MullenLowe Lintas. The agency’s Group CCO and Chairman Amer Jaleel took to a social media platform to share his dismay over not getting credit and urged the industry to introspect on how agencies are not protected under IP laws.

Most agency heads say it is good that the issue is being discussed on a public forum. Santhosh Padhi, CCO, Wieden+ Kennedy India, hopes the industry will learn lessons that will help make relationships between clients and agencies more transparent. “Our ideas are our assets, and that is the reason brands come to creative agencies. When I was with Taproot, we created a brand campaign for a client for the Indian market. Since they felt it would do equally well in one of their other markets, we the agency and the client agreed on a fee for the idea to be adopted in that country. It went smoothly because when you are using an idea for your business purpose or growth, it is your right and duty to compensate every stakeholder, more so the creative agency whose idea it was in the first place,” he shares.

Even within the agency, does the idea belong to the team that worked on the brand, the creative individual who came up with the idea or the agency as a whole? “Quite like the way we have sold our services to the agency and forgo all claims on our output, it should be the same with the agency-client relationship. Having said that, if the agency has a clear clause on idea ownership in the contract, all power to the creators!” says Vikash Chemjong, chief creative officer, Cheil India.

Soumitra Karnik, an independent creative consultant, says the problem lies in the lack of a unified approach from the industry. It is almost impossible to agree to charge clients a royalty for IP rights. There will always be more than one agency that will break this arrangement and give away the rights for free to win or keep a business.

Need for an ombudsman

Intellectual property disputes are just as common across the globe. Having a body like the Screenwriters Guild of America, where screenwriters can register their original work so it is safe from plagiarism, is on option agencies in India could consider. A model would be bodies like IPRS (Indian Performing Rights Society), the representative body of music owners, composers, lyricists (or authors) and the publishers of music, which is also the sole authorised body to issue licenses for the use of musical works in India.

“We have to develop a framework where we can register our ideas, log lines, core insight, and broad campaign messaging into one neat entry,” shares Thakkar. Padhi adds that in a absence of a really strong advertising industry body that takes care of agency issues, creative work and talent behind such work will continue to be undervalued.

Also Read: Indian agencies’ discomfort with Twitter grows

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First published on: 21-11-2022 at 10:09 IST