No longer smiling: It appears my favorite commercial of the year was plagiarized.
January 5, 2010
Far be it from me to court controversy on a blog (!) but only a few days into the new decade and we have one. A doozy. Followers of this blog know I chose the American Express campaign, “Smiles” as my favorite advertising of the year. Over the course of two posts I praised this work for its craft, charm and simplicity. On December 7th, I wrote:
There is sincerity about Amex’s work, which belies the rampant turmoil and cynicism gripping the financial (and advertising) world. Kudos to American Express and their advertising agency for giving us pause to smile.
Well, that sincerity has been called into question and I’m afraid the evidence is most damning. A commenter, “Jane” makes a hard case for plagiarism and offers film as proof. First, her comment:
Yes, everyone has seen (these) happy and sad faces because Francois and Jean Robert have been producing books with faces since 1978. Francois and Jean Robert have helped all of you SEE the world in a different way because of their books. An original idea? Perhaps, perhaps not… but they have produced 4 books with copyrighted images.
Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg approached Mr. Robert through his rep in NY in 2006 about using his faces for an Audi commercial, didn’t use him, but used the “faces idea” anyway… then Ogilvy & Mather uses “faces” for American Express in 2009. Coincidence? I think not.
The agency basically used Francois Robert’s book as a storyboard to create this commercial. The shopping bag, wallet, are headphones compared side by side are almost identical.
Here is the Audi commercial:
In addition, have a look at a recent story from Fast Company: Fast Company article
I hope it goes without saying that I was unaware of both the photographic source material as well as the Audi commercial. If I had been I never would have chosen the Amex campaign as my favorite advertising of the year. Quite the contrary. While much advertising is derivative one cannot abide blatant plagiarism. We are paid for our ideas. Stealing them is unacceptable. “Jane” puts it in more poetic terms:
The question is, who owns an idea? Is it OK to steal the idea for commercial gain in the case of Ogilvy & Mather? Is it OK because agencies do this all of the time? What if it were YOUR idea? YOUR music? Your industrial design? How would you feel?
I’d feel like shit. Therefore I’d like to offer my apologies to those wronged for furthering this charade. If the agency, filmmaker or anyone else involved cares to make a rebuttal be my guest. I was wrong once. Maybe I’m missing something yet again…