The story of ‘the story of a sign’

At a meeting I attended recently, the speaker ended by showing this award-winning video by Glasgow agency, Purplefeather:

Fellow audience members loved it, and with nearly 20 million views, the video has certainly gone viral.

But it’s not the original. When I watched the Scottish video, the impact was reduced because I’d already seen this version by Alonso Alvarez Barreda:

Purplefeather CEO, Andrea Gardner, admits their version ‘pays homage to’ the Barreda video, which won a short film award at Cannes in 2008.

But that’s not the original either.

Nick Galanides made this version in 2004 and won the Cream Grand Prix:

Guess what, the story is not his own. It’s appeared in copywriting books such as Ogilvy on Advertising from 1985.

And even that wasn’t the first time the story was told. It seems David Ogilvy was inspired by the poem On my mother’s blindness by American David Kirby, that includes the real-life experience of French poet Jacques Prévert (d1977):

Prévert saw a beggar who had a sign that said “Blind Man Without a Pension.”
Prévert asked him how it was going.
The beggar replied …
“Oh, very badly. People pass by and drop nothing in my hat, the swine.”
Prévert took the sign from him and altered it.
A few days later, he went up to the beggar and again asked him how things were going.
The beggar said, “Fantastic! My hat fills up three times a day.”
Prévert had written the following on the beggar’s sign:
“Spring is coming, but I won’t see it.”

As with music that’s recorded multiple times by different artists, the first version you hear is often the version you like best.

In this case, I prefer the last version I found – which is the real-life original. All the edited sign lacks is the call to action: “Please help”.

But does it matter?

You have to dig deeper

I was asked to write a sales letter for a client who sells solar panels. He gave me a copy of an article from the Daily Mail that quoted some stats to support his case. I started writing it, then paused for a moment as my original journalism training kicked in.

“Hang on a minute,” I thought. “Better just double-check those stats”.

After some Googling, I found that the Mail article was a rewrite of an original from the Guardian.

After some more Googling, I found the original research paper.

Sadly for my client, the data had been mis-quoted in both newspapers.

I went back to him with my findings, and we agreed I should write the sales letter with a different ‘hook’.

Why you need to know this

  • Try to be original
  • Anything can be copied, especially on the Internet
  • Always double-check and credit the original source

One Response to The story of ‘the story of a sign’

  1. Dom July 22, 2017 at 10:48 pm #

    There is a mention of Prévert and the blind man in a French writer diary under 22 October 1953: Matthieu Galey, Journal 1953-1973

Leave a Reply