Has Covid made it okay to recycle ideas in advertising?

—The idea behind this Guinness campaign was clever, says Craig Redmond, but not clever enough to use it twice in the same year—

Me: Oh, hello again. Welcome to Twenty-Twenty-Too.

The Other Me: Oh, piss off you word-playing knob. That’s a little too obvious.

An Entirely Other Me Altogether: Now, now kids. Let’s start 2022 off proper and try and get along, shall we?  

Probably the most interesting thing about working in advertising is waking up each morning wondering which of your conceptual personas you are going to be that day. And which of them will make it to the office—or the breakfast nook—to submit their ideas first.

Will it be your Three Stooges-loving self who adores punchlines or sight gags for everything? Will it be the tortured raconteur who perspires each word onto the page with agonizing introspection? Will it be the tried-and-tested traveler that defers to well-worn, proven paths like testimonials, celebrity endorsements, or analogous storytelling? Or might it be the wide-eyed wild child who wakes first and proposes the utterly preposterous?

Of course, it should all depend on the strategic director’s map of the constellations provided to help guide your dreams the night before. But one thing all those different personas will agree on when they wake up is that, no matter what the idea or who came up with it, there is no double-dipping in advertising. You can never misrepresent an old idea as new and not expect to be called out and crucified by your peers.

At least that was the law until the Covid time warp swallowed us whole, it seems.

Because aside from all the other Groundhog Day nightmares we have endured these nearly two years, something equally, repetitively strange has been happening in our ad industry backyard. Old ads—not just old ideas, but actual produced, finished ads—are being served up as new.

When I first noticed the phenomenon, I chalked it up to advertisers and their agencies desperately reheating ad leftovers to circumvent pandemic-imposed production impossibilities. But then I noticed those ads appearing on advertising showcase sites and presented as brand-new work after they had already been posted up to one year earlier.

Last spring, for example, I shared a commercial for Guinness because it reminded me of a concept we proposed to Diageo years earlier.

We wanted to hang white mylar banners at the top of the black TD Centre towers in Toronto to look like two giant pints of the dark stout. The investment community had just survived a protracted recession and was thriving once again. So, to celebrate, we would emblazon the foam-emulating, side-by-side banners with the fittingly timely Guinness tagline, “Good Things Come … To Those Who Wait.”

Tragically, Diageo cut their budgets and the stunt installation was shelved. Seeing the spot below back in May, immediately conjured up the painful memory of our missed opportunity for Guinness. As it did once more when the exact same spot, under a different title with a re-recorded track, was reviewed again in the exact same publication seven months later just before Christmas.

Now, I shan’t cast shade on Diageo for the ad redundancy, especially since they are donating £30 million to help support British pubs. But I do question its recycled re-pouring as something fresh. And wonder if regurgitating old ads will become an acceptable, post plague norm?

One prays nay.

And one hopes my word-playing conceptual persona self is wrong and prematurely pessimistic when he welcomes you to Twenty-Twenty-Too. Here’s to praying yay to Twenty-Twenty-New.

Craig Redmond is a creative leader with Palmer Stamnes and Co, an independent family of marketing communication companies.