Has plagiarism become a matter of epidemic proportions in the mortgage industry?
One of the greatest advantages of being immersed in marketing and advertising over the past 25 years is the constant exposure to new ideas, mottos, catch phrases, unique selling propositions, taglines, jingles, commercials and—of course—a multitude of brands. Working with different companies throughout my career, helping them flesh out new advertising concepts and bringing them to fruition has truly been a privilege, but it has revealed an aspect of the business which I am not particularly proud of, one that has been hidden in plain sight for years—I am speaking about plagiarism.
Most of our industry is comprised of baby boomers, individuals who lived through “The Wonder Years” which were saturated with music and television. If we weren’t listening to vinyl records and 8-tracks, we were glued to the groove tube watching Warner Bros. cartoons, episodes of The Twilight Zone and Andy Griffith and, naturally, countless TV commercials. It was a pop culture overload, and while every generation has their “popular culture”, ours was more homogenous—as sources of stimuli were limited, and the creators themselves were cut from the same cloth.
However, we didn’t all turn out the same, as more often than not, we relied on our wild imaginations to invent new forms of play, new frames of thought, and new ways of challenging ourselves to keep our minds and bodies active.
So where am I going with this, you ask?
Well, it is these collective memories and experiences that play a significant role in how many of us view the world and process thoughts and idea. They have colored the space of our imagination, some brighter than others. In my wheel-house, though inundated with references, trying to come up with an original marketing idea or advertising campaign that will adhere to the minds of our prospective audiences is not all that simple. We often find our efforts obfuscated by the systematic reliance upon pre-existing imagery.
Today, and over the last decade, the realm of advertising has evolved dramatically. The way we process information is much faster. We have moved into a hyperspace of digital media since the advent of desktop publishing in the 90s. Bandwidth is now much larger and there is an overabundance of stimuli inundating the social media stratosphere. The days of thumbing through ads have been replaced with hours scrolling through smart devices, making information readily available at everyone’s fingertips and easily disseminated across media platforms and audiences. In many instances, what is seen and read is nothing more than a continuous recycling of information in a slightly different format or with a slightly different spin—all content is derivative. Flashy banner ads, self-produced videos and endless blogs flood the social media landscape, enabling anyone to readily voice their opinion and believe you me—everybody’s got one, and everyone will proclaim to be the resident expert. The danger is, when everyone’s an expert, no one will be.
Advertising is very competitive.
It requires a certain savviness and a creative way of thinking. As a marketing executive in the mortgage industry, I have always retained the idea that in order to remain creative, you must train yourself to take notice of everything around you. In a previous NMP interview, “The Man Behind the Ads”, I speak about the process of observation and how it can influence thought and inspire ideas. It is vital to take inspiration from everything around you and from all industries outside of those that we serve; you have to be a sponge, absorbing the multitude of strategies and approaches, ranging from simple (think perfume ads), to complex. Everything you see can fuel your creativity, and you have to be ready to catalyze these glints of inspiration at any given moment. I’ve found that my best ideas would start on a cocktail napkin while relaxing and trying not to think too hard. You’d be surprised at what comes to mind.
The mortgage industry is a very competitive marketplace.
Let’s face it, the competition is fierce when it comes to mortgage companies vying for brokers and borrowers’ attention. Sales and marketing teams, more than ever, need to be on their toes, constantly adapting to the ever-changing demands of the market. The challenge, however, lies in the fact that we are selling a service and an opportunity, as opposed to a product that we can tangibly vary.
Executive leaders are always brewing up new initiatives, forcing their teams to reevaluate their corporate strategies, streamline their processes, and redefine their image.
Unfortunately, this last element leaves many new mortgage companies at a disadvantage. Most do not have a leadership team, let alone the budget to hire a skilled marketing and sales team. Furthermore, hiring an outside firm can be very expensive and an advertising budget is often negated altogether.
So, while many of these companies are well-versed in loan origination, processing and overseeing the daily operations, very little attention is given to marketing and advertising, leaving it either unattended or in the hands of their originators and branch managers to handle—many of which lack the necessary skills, creative talent and/or artistic sensibility to compete.
These circumstances have bred precarious dynamics, allowing many companies to fall victim to plagiarism by mimicking or copying what other players have already utilized successfully as a way of establishing their presence in the industry. The imagery becomes recognizable, and the authorship becomes muddled. While it is seemingly convenient and efficient at the time, this reckless behavior breeds future conflict, including copyright infringement and violation of trademark laws. Not fun when HUD comes to audit.
It’s one thing to draw inspiration from observation and experiences—we all know I love a good allusion. It’s another thing to explicitly copy, rip off or—to euphemize the act, “plagiarize”—from your neighbors and competitors and claim it as an original thought.
It is without question that there is some ignorance or lack of ethical perspective when it comes to respecting what other companies have worked so hard at doing to separate themselves from the competition. I continue to see up-and-coming mortgage companies and even those that are well established in the business riding on the coattails of their competitors. They change a word here or there, scrub copy from a blog, or pull images from another source to create a watered-down version of another competitor’s advertising campaign or motto, not only violating their ethical business standards, but ultimately diluting the effectiveness of their own campaign.
This is certainly not to say that an original thought is easy to come by—there have been many instances, moments of weakness to say the least, when I’ve traversed the seas of writer’s block only to arrive at an idea that was already being used by a competitor. These difficult moments however are actually opportunities to prove the originality and uniqueness of your company, in conjunction with the potency of your ethics and moral principles. Sure, I’ve resurrected old concepts and revitalized them, but only if it was something that I had a hand in originally or collaborated on—say campaigns that have long since passed, or seeds of ideas that never fully came to fruition—regardless, I stick to content that was borne from my own imagination and when I find that my content is not actually “my” content, I retreat to my den and try to think of something fresh.
Again, it’s hard to be fresh when so much propaganda inundates the airwaves. The act of “recycling” an idea could easily be subconscious, as much of our media intake is subliminal. How many times have we all seen the metaphor of the guy standing on the mountain top saying, “I’ve achieved success!” or the people rowing in unison in the catamaran demonstrating teamwork! And I’m sure each time these “new ideas” were presented in a meeting, there was someone who found it “refreshing” and poignant, despite its redundancy. This is why we must consciously increase our exposure to new content, rather than limit it. And more importantly, work to actively comprehend and consume, to avoid the subconscious priming of our mental landscapes, so that we recognize when an idea is derivative of another. Not only will these strategies increase variability within the marketplace, but it will challenge and stimulate each player, ultimately resulting in higher quality content.
Plagiarism is a serious offense that is often disguised with euphemisms such as “borrowing” or “simulating”... but the severity of its consequences are such that the matter should not be swept under the rug. Creative directors and leadership officials that condone the use of unoriginal content are not only putting themselves at risk of legal repercussions, but they are putting their audiences at risk. Unlike in “The Wonder Years” in which the media were explicitly at the mercy of the oligopolies, there are now unlimited sources of content. We have the opportunity to create a democratic, free marketplace, yet we are surrendering to plagiarism. To reiterate the same material is to create a consumer space that is homogenized, and nothing is more threatening to our current sociopolitical state than homogeneity. We need variety and originality to constantly challenge the norm and force each player within the industry to innovate and adapt to an evolving landscape, it is a system of checks and balances...it is a way to assure that we are Progressively Better in All that We Do.
My North Star is my motto: Inspired by design, motivated by imagination. I stick to that and the ideas keep flowing.
REFERENCES: P. Org, Retrieved from http://www.plagiarism.org/article/what-is-plagiarism
Paul Lucido is national marketing director at PRMG with more than 20 years in marketing and advertising. PRMG’s National Marketing Department offers loan originators unique marketing tools to help them grow and retain business. PRMG is a national leading lender that is licensed in 47 states, offering retail, wholesale and correspondent business. Paul can be reached directly by e-mail at email@example.com
As Published in National Mortgage Professional Magazine