Amateurs Borrow, Professionals Steal

Years ago, I attended a lecture by Joey Reiman, then a Copywriter/Creative Director at an agency in Atlanta. One of the things that stood out most from his talk was the quote above, allegedly John Lennon’s rephrasing of T.S. Elliot’s ”Amateur poets borrow; mature poets steal” or possibly Malcolm Mclaren’s reworking of Picasso’s  “Bad artists copy, great artists steal. ” No one seems to know for sure. But that’s beside the point.

As Joey explained it, “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal” is not about plagiarizing other ads. That would be bad. Rather, it’s about taking elements from the language and ideas floating around in daily life and popular culture and using them in your work. Last week, I came across a great example of “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal.” At least as it applies to advertising.

The board here for the Chicken Scratch restaurant in Dallas is a great example of legitimate “stealing”: turning an offhand comment you heard someone say into a headline. In this case, it was something the client said. As Copywriter Dan Bull explained, the owner of the place “was talking about the challenge the restaurant faces and explained: “I mean, we’re between a trailer park and a condemned motel!” And I thought, “That would make a pretty great ad, actually.”

Indeed. That and the cool Robert Crumb style illustration.

June 3, 2013 · Posted by in advertising  


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