William Shakespeare was a plot pilfering plagiarist. There, we’ve said it.

In truth, he’d be the first to admit it – probably just before inventing a bawdy new insult to throw back at us. And, considering the circumstances, who could blame him? 

Writing for, acting in, and managing your own theatre company during one of the most turbulent periods in British history, can’t have left much room for unproductive day dreaming. 

So what if he borrowed a little here and there. Who cares if he rehashed old plays and stories? What’s the issue with him hanging his fancier clothes off the mediocre mannequins of others and calling them his own? 

We don’t have a problem with it. You just have to let it roll, because he was so damned good.

creative fuel

Swipe files, plagiarism, borrowing, copying, unoriginality, sameness, nothing new under the sun, whatever you want to call it, is something that anybody who works in a creative industry will be uncomfortably familiar with. 

Time constraints, stress, lack of coffee and a multitude of other things, can all play havoc with a muse who’s a sulky loafer at the best of times. But when you’re trying to coerce your muse into a commercial straitjacket, it often becomes belligerent, bolshy and, worst of all, silent. 

An old vintage picture of Sarah Bernhardt playing Macbeth.
I warned you not to copy my work!

So, for some, Shakespeare included, it’s not surprising that the work of others was/is a vital source of inspiration and ideas, of creative fuel. 

It’s a creative shortcut. 

It spurs you on to greater things.

retro reading

In that vein, we found a book recently at a local charity shop. It cost 50 pence. 

It’s called “100 TOP COPY WRITERS AND THEIR FAVORITE ADS”

Nothing special there you might think. Advertising bookshelves are full of similar things. Until you realise it was published in 1954.

It’s a fascinating read.

It has that lovely musty smell you only get when you shove your nose into an old book – which, sadly, is a smell also reflected in many of the adverts contained within it.

Let’s just say that some of them are definitely of their time.

The tone of voice (stuffy, chauvinistic), the product (war bonds, cigarettes), the naive illustrations; most of the ads would/could not have been written today.

And yet, it’s still a valuable addition to any modern creative marketing agency’s library. 

A cheesy 1950's or earlier marketing advertisement. A housewife smiling whilst holding a bottle of lemonade.

In truth, it’s probably quite a rare book. It’s certainly not one you’d expect to find in the far-flung reaches of the South West of England. But, that’s synchronicity for you.

Anyway, to us, it’s a rare gem.

Why?

Because it reminded us of something. Something important. Something valuable.

It reminded us that we wear dead people. 

ghastly garms 

That might sound odd, but we do. Everybody wears dead people. 

We all clothe ourselves in the ideas, the stories, the personalities, and the values of people we see, meet, hear, read about, or aspire to be.

We all follow in the steps of those that have gone before us. 

And we all find encouragement, inspiration and passion from people who’ve struggled to reach the places we’d also like to go to. Even if they made missteps along the way. 

The book also reminded us of something else.

Times change. Technology changes. Attitudes change.

It might seem like the world is always outpacing us, but that’s life in creative marketing. That’s advertising.

You have to keep adapting, keep trying, and keep moving forward, while always coming back to the same core truths. 

  • Connect 
  • Engage 
  • Exchange value 

Plus, embrace change where and whenever you can. It’s the enemy of sameness. It’s your best friend, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Especially if it makes you uncomfortable.

new enough 

It takes a lot of effort to keep going until you get to somewhere new. 

An old typewriter back-to-back with a modern laptop. Modern vs old marketing
Old Ideas for Modern Marketers

Real marketing creativity lies in getting past the obvious; in finding inspiration and value in new connections – shocking, surprising, memorable connections between unusual things, put together in unusual ways.

Still, as far as we’re concerned, if you’ve created something you’ve achieved something. You’ve brought something into the world. It’s important to remember that when critics are sharpening their words.

So, take heart from old Shakespeare, the Tudor Text Thief.

An idea might not be entirely new. In fact, it probably isn’t.

However, when placed in context, all that idea has to be is new enough.

And, as for Shakespeare himself. What book is the codpiece-wearing copyist charged with “borrowing” from now?

Well, according to new research, it’s an extremely rare but obviously highly influential book of its day. It’s name,

“A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” by George North.

Wait a minute…Rebels?

Shakespeare, you cheeky bardstard!

Famous Rebel: People to Hang Ideas off

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