05 The originality of not being original: can a new take on an old idea be more powerful?

By Cher Keane, Senior Account Director

According to the Design Council’s latest report, there are 1.69 million people employed in design roles, and that’s just in the UK. When you really think about this and the creative output, it’s incredibly exciting but it also poses a problem for originality. At the last count, there were over 78,000 design firms in the UK alone: can a truly original idea still be found?

When Carlos Bayala, Founder and Creative Director of New, opened his session at the D&AD Festival with the word “originality”, I thought he was going to talk about the importance of it… but Carlos has an issue with originality, and I agree with him.

Let’s consider the Burger King campaign that recently launched in South America: delivering Burger King orders to cars stuck in traffic. It hasn’t been done before; it was truly original – but was it good? There’s no denying it was a good commercial idea, but good in the sense of human health? The environment? Does it move the world forward? It was original creativity for selling goods, but not for doing good.



Let’s now consider a single story: the story of Cimon and Pero. It’s the subject matter for Charles Mellin’s Roman Charity painting. If you haven’t seen it, do a quick Google search… I’ll warn you, it’s a little risqué. It is an exceptional piece, but it is not original. The same subject matter has been painted repeatedly throughout the ages, each time rendering its audience with different feelings, emotions and reactions: desperation to defiance, erotism to nurture, love to anguish.

Climate change is a consideration for companies across the globe, but there is a risk that agencies could shy away from it because it’s “overdone”, a “cliché”, it’s “not original”. Let’s stop right there. Climate change is about human survival and is the single most important topic the world is facing. If creatives side-line an unoriginal subject matter in the pursuit of something unique, they might miss a chance to change the world, literally.

An original idea doesn’t always equate to a good idea, but shining a new light on an unoriginal subject matter… that’s something to get excited about.

Carlos was Global Creative Director and partner at Mother. Before that, he was Executive Creative Director position at Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam, where he led Nike Football globally.

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