My last post, in praise of Leo Burnett’s brash, new campaign for Allstate, “Mayhem” prompted numerous comments, a few of which have compelled me to write again.
One commenter, going by the pseudonym, Bill O’Really took the advertising to task for being derivative of an older campaign by Fallon for Traveler’s Insurance, called “Risk” and for an award-winning utility commercial entitled “Wind.” The work is posted above. Here is one of O’Really’s comments, verbatim:
One insurance company creates an ad in which a guy playing RISK runs around doing random things. A few years later another insurance company creates an ad in which a guy named MAYHEM runs around doing random things? C’mon Steff, could they be any closer? The only difference is Burnett went for a more menacing tone. The Fallon spot was award-winning and very well known. Not to mention the French commercial which is the best of the lot. I don’t know, there’s a point where you say, nice idea, but it’s been done and it’s been done in our very category. I know there are no new ideas, but that doesn’t mean we have to resort to this kind of thing.
I confess I’d forgotten about the other campaigns; seeing them again I do concede they are quite similar. But is it plagiarism? And if so, does it matter? I’ve faced these questions before.
A while back I’d chosen a commercial for American Express, “Smiles” as my favorite campaign of the year. Quickly, I received numerous comments that it, too, had been “borrowed” from other source material. So close were the similarities between campaigns, I reneged on my best-of-the-year verdict. While acknowledging a grey area existed between plagiarism and “borrowed interest”, I couldn’t get around certain facts, namely that the artist whose work had been copied had, I think, not been compensated for his concept. Other factors played into my about-face and they’re all documented: Gods post: \"Smiles\"
And so here we are again. Fact: The Allstate campaign personifies “Mayhem” and the Traveler’s campaign personifies “Risk.” Yet, despite the evidence, I’m not so sure I have the same negative opinion. The world has changed. The Internet and social media have allowed for an endless array of ideas (for brands, for entertainment, for everything really) to flourish. These ideas build upon other ideas, many of them knowingly. Someone creates something popular and it gets replicated and parodied ad nausea. Popular culture repeats itself over and over again. Mimicking others has become an art form; dare I say, acceptable.
Is it acceptable, then, for Leo Burnett and Allstate to manufacture a campaign so similar to Fallon and Traveler’s? While I do find it disturbing that both campaigns are for big, well-known insurance companies I honestly don’t know if it matters anymore. I doubt the consumer cares. They will respond to the work without passing judgment. And since the “Risk” campaign is several years old they likely won’t remember it anyway.
Matters of intellectual property, then, are only for the respective clients and agencies to decide. I do not know if copyright laws regarding advertising creative even exist. If so, are they enforceable? And, moreover, should they be?
In Hollywood there are copyright laws yet many films are derivative of one another, some of them coming out side by side. A few summers ago there were two “Volcano” movies; two films about Truman Capote, and so on.
And isn’t Burger King a copy of McDonald’s, a Whopper a copy of the Big Mac? Coke has its Pepsi. United has American. There is nothing new since the Romans. Maybe now we should stop pretending there is.
For what it’s worth, I like the Allstate work better. The writing, the acting, the directing; I respond to it more viscerally than I do for the “Risk” campaign. But does that make it okay? And if it isn’t “okay” are we in Ad Land the only ones that give a damn?
This from the blog, These Are Their Stories:
Dean Winters, who appeared on Law & Order SVU as Detective Brian Cassidy during the first half of the first season, is now the star of some new offbeat commercials for Allstate. He is portraying a character called “Mayhem” who represents all the different kinds of damage that can affect drivers.
Last year, in this blog I praised Allstate’s long-running ad campaign featuring actor, Dennis Haybert. His patriarchal and steadying demeanor was just right for the huge insurance agency, particularly during times of economic turmoil.
While the world is far from economically recovered, Allstate and its agency, Leo Burnett created a new and very different ad campaign. First impression: It’s fantastic. From the exquisitely biting acting chops of its protagonist to the bodacious music track, these deft executions are handled with gritty style and panache. Trust me folks, this is not your father’s Allstate. Mayhem is personified by Winters as a mischievous devil, quite willing to do harm. He is a “deer in your headlights.” A teen-aged driver. A fallen tree in a windstorm. When the character wreaks havoc on your car, home or person he laughs gleefully, sinfully. Like I said, not your father’s Allstate. Wisely, Haybert’s steadying voice-over is retained at the end, taking the edge off the campaign.
Unlike previous work, the campaign no longer speaks prosaically about safety, security and protection. Instead “Mayhem” is taking on Geico and other discount insurers. If you worry about saving “up to 15% on auto insurance” you’re likely not covered for certain kinds of mayhem. It’s a radical departure for the brand. But instead of fighting value with value (thank God), Allstate and Leo Burnett created this.
In some respects, “Mayhem” is also the debut creative of Leo Burnett’s new Chief Creative Officer, Susan Credle. As many of you know, after a lengthy search, Leo Burnett plucked Credle from BBDO in New York. There she’d created the mischievous M & M’s campaign for Mars, among many others.
In Cannes, I spoke with Credle at length about Allstate’s new campaign. At the time I had not seen a single piece of communication. But Susan was very excited about it. Having seen the spots I can see why.