the ludlow group blog

Something Borrowed

At some point we’ve all heard the phrase, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” While maybe that’s based in truth, we all know that when someone receives credit for something we believe to be “ours”, it can leave you feeling anything but flattered.

Sometimes this type of situation is small; perhaps a friend buys the same piece of clothing as you, or takes on an interest of yours as their own. These things might be frustrating for a moment, but are usually pretty easy to move on from. Sometimes, however, the situation is big. As in millions of dollars big. And that backlash might hang around for a little while.

Advertising, for example, is no stranger to the concept of “borrowing” ideas. Flash mobs, a now extremely common form of live-action advertising, actually began as a large-scale social experiment by Bill Wasik in the early 2000’s. Today, when searched in YouTube, flash mob advertising can be found for everything from cell-phone companies and TV shows, to PSA’s and banks.

While flash mobs are now well-received and wildly popular, some recycled ideas are not met with such acceptance. In early 2010, AT&T came under fire for releasing a television commercial that featured orange fabric being draped over various places and landmarks within the United States, the implication being that AT&T covers 97% of Americans. To many, it was a well-done and aesthetically pleasing ad. To others, however, it was something else – plagiarism.

Since the early 1960’s, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have made a name for themselves creating large-scale environmental works of art. Their work is distinct, and is generally recognizable by their use of fabric to interact with or cover various spaces and structures around the world – a concept seemingly identical to the one used in the aforementioned AT&T ad. Moreover, the fabric in the commercials is an unusually bright shade of orange, which, by coincidence or not, also happens to be a signature color of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The couple began using the distinctive hue over 40 years ago.

The campaign, developed by BBDO, was said by some to be a sort-of tribute to Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude (who passed only a year prior to the release of the ads). Yet others, including Christo himself, felt that without any recognition to the artists, the commercials were merely a rip-off. Backlash and lawsuits against the ads actually got so bad at one point that later versions of the ad actually feature a disclaimer stating that the commercials are in no way affiliated with the original artists.

So what do you think – Coincidence brought on by poor research? An ad paying homage to the artists? Or a blatant, and unflattering, imitation?

Check out the ad and the art below and decide for yourself.

Valley Curtain

Wrapped Walk Ways

The Pont Neuf Wrapped

all images courtesy of © Christo & Jeanne-Claude

About sophialudlowgroup

The Ludlow Group Blog is an advertising blog where you'll find posts on social media, design, marketing, ad campaigns, photography and architecture

5 comments on “Something Borrowed

  1. drawandshoot
    January 26, 2012

    Very interesting. It seems to me the AT&T ad is quite a blatant reference to Christo & Jeanne Claude. How could they deny it? Such complicated issues.

    I was surprised to read this copyright ruling this morning on BoingBoing, further complicating similar issues. It seems unreal…

    • sophialudlowgroup
      January 26, 2012

      Wow, that’s really interesting. It really is such a fine line, and in many cases it’s extremely hard to tell if two similar ideas/executions are just coincidence or not.

      As this article ( points out, “color key shots of busses passing over Westminster Bridge are remarkably common.”

      However, in the case of AT&T and Christo & Jeanne-Claude, how common is it to take giant pieces of fabric in a bright orange color, and drape them over extremely large areas and monuments? Probably not common enough to be just a coincidence.

      Thanks for stopping by and linking that story!

      • drawandshoot
        January 27, 2012

        Gosh it just occurred to me how ironic it is that I’ve been photographing wrapped trees…
        I hope Christo doesn’t mind…

  2. Lizzie Ellis
    January 27, 2012

    This is a really interesting issue. I find it intriguing how it seems to shift depending on the kind of medium that you’re working in and often how public the reach of your product is.

    We work in the exhibit development sector and some of the exhibits we’re currently making are clear progressions of things that have been seen in other science centres before. It’s something I always reference when writing about them in our blog because I think it’s worth linking back to previous inspirations.

    I wonder in this case if they’d just made it obvious it was some sort of homage if it had ended up being a different story?

    • sophialudlowgroup
      January 27, 2012

      I definitely agree with your medium and public reach statement. The idea of covering structures with brightly colored fabric is extreme and uncommon. Therefore, using the exact idea in an AT&T commercial is going to elicit a larger response than, say, reproducing a copyrighted image and hanging it in your house.

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This entry was posted on January 26, 2012 by in Advertising, Design, Marketing and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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