I was surprised to see “Great minds like a think” headlining One Day University’s full-page ad in the New York Times Sunday Review of June 22:
A clever play on “great minds think alike,” right? Too bad that particular witticism has been associated with The Economist for more than a quarter-century.
20" x 14" poster, $224 framed, at the Economist store.
The line was created by the UK’s biggest ad agency, Abbott Mead Vickers (now part of BBDO), for a much-lauded campaign that began in the mid-1980s and ran for at least 20 years. (It may still be running somewhere.) Other word-playful lines in the campaign included “Trump Donald,” “Pressure peers,” and “Think someone under the table.” (See Jarrett Lambert’s Pinterest board of Economist ads.)
In appropriating the “great minds” line, One Day University may have violated copyright law, but not trademark. As far as I can tell, The Economist doesn’t have trademark protection for the tagline. [UPDATE: But see comment below from Jessica, a trademark lawyer.]
Nevertheless, when a line is that distinctive, and that closely associated with a single globally recognized company (founded 1843), it seems shabby, derivative, and even larcenous when another advertiser “borrows” it.
This isn’t the first time The Economist’s famous ads have been plagiarized. Back in 2003, the British budget airline easyJet ran ads with a quote from “George Smith, management trainee, aged 47”:
Blurry image via The Guardian, April 14, 2003.
The Economist was not amused.
From the Guardian article:
The Economist has complained to the advertising watchdog about Easyjet, accusing the budget airline of copying its hugely successful black-on-red advertising campaign. …
The Economist is claiming the advert breaches the copyright on its famous “management trainee” poster campaign, which ran in the mind-1980s [sic] and was voted among the top 10 posters of the century by Campaign magazine.
EasyJet may have assumed it was in the clear because it changed the verb tense and “trainee” age in the copy. One Day University, in contrast, didn’t make even the feeblest attempt at originality. It may have another think coming.