You say Apocalypse, I say ADpocalypse.

Every creative’s been there before. You come up with a great idea. It feels original. It works in every medium. It’s got huge social media potential. The client loves it. You start bringing it to life, and then, out of nowhere, someone else does it first.

This just happened to us while working on themes for the 2012 DC Addy Awards. (A trying task if ever there was one, because no matter what you do, someone will think it’s lame.) A year ago, when we took the assignment, the first thing that popped into our brains was, “Hey it’s the 2012 Addys... isn’t that supposed to be the year of the Apocalypse? Or should we say, the ADpocalypse?

So we bought and filed the idea away, figuring we’d probably come up with a better one. And we did­ – a few of them, in fact. But we kept coming back to the original because it had so much urgency. Could this be the Last Addys Ever? You better win now while you still can. So we went with it. And one of our designers started crafting an incredibly detailed set of Mayan-inspired illustrations. It was all coming together nicely.


Literally the night before releasing the files to the printers and developers, I got an email from the International Andy Awards saying, you guessed it: “Enter Before the Apocalypse.” Exact same idea. Only done on a much larger and much more international scale, complete with a beautiful site and video by R/GA. (Great minds think alike?)

Of course our version of the idea was DOA. You can’t afford even a whiff of unoriginality on an award show call for entries. Thankfully we had a plan B, which I’ll keep under wraps for fear of another incident.

But it raises the inevitable question: how can you avoid the dreaded “Hey, that’s been done” moment when you’re working on real brands for real clients in the real world? Ideally, it should be a lot easier. Because brands are about so much more than a logo or what you say in an ad or put on a website. Strong brands have their own DNA. They have a soul. They’re built on real insights about their customers’ wants, needs and more importantly, their values. They invite people to be part of something bigger than themselves and show the world what they stand for. And they consistently deliver a unique experience that competing brands shouldn’t be able to match. (We call these brands Magnet Brands.)

One of my ad school teachers once said, “The mark of a good idea is if you put someone else’s logo on it, it shouldn’t make sense.” That’s even truer with brands. They shouldn’t be interchangeable. They should stand alone. For example, while discount airlines might be similar, you couldn’t put a Jet Blue logo on a Southwest ad or vice versa. Because both of those brands go much deeper than a great visual, beautiful design or clever turn of phrase. They are distinctly different -- and lasting – promises.