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.
all images courtesy of © Christo & Jeanne-Claude