Is Goodby’s new logo plagiarized and does it even matter?

August 16, 2011



Recently, Goodby Silverstein & Partners changed their logo. Shortly thereafter, someone came forward via Agency Spy indicating the logo was essentially a direct copy of another company’s mark. It should be mentioned the original logo was created a century ago. Nevertheless, people were quick to accuse GS&P of plagiarism. This ugly debate led Rich Silverstein to issue a memo stating that the “appropriation” was “100% intentional.” That memo found itself on, you guessed it, Agency Spy and, as one might imagine, a slew of mostly critical opinions followed.

Plagiarism is a hot button topic in Adland. I’ve covered it numerous times on this blog, including this post about my favorite campaign in 2010, which, apparently, had been plagiarized. The same thing happened when I chose my favorite campaign of 2011. Ironic history repeating itself when I talk of plagiarism.

Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism, which in turn is ‘plagiarized’ from “other dictionaries” is as follows: the “wrongful appropriation,” “close imitation,” or “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

By that definition the logo was plagiarized. But then things get interesting. Wikipedia states, “with the boom of the modernist and postmodern movements in the 20th century, this practice has been heightened as a central and representative artistic device,” concluding that “plagiarism remains tolerated by 21st century artists.”

Sigh. This is a tricky debate on so many levels, many of them covered in the myriad (mostly mean) comments following the Agency Spy posts as well as my own.

While I agree with Richard Silverstein that “sampling” has become a big part of popular culture (and this argument is not to be taken lightly) I also agree that his agency copied. And as we were all taught in second grade, copying is wrong.

So, what’s a girl to do, especially if that girl is a copywriter looking at old advertising annuals for inspiration or a creative director looking at work?

I think the key is what was added or changed to build on the original idea. If sampled music becomes part of a new thing it’s not plagiarism, like when Run DMC appropriated the lyrics and licks to Aerosmith’s Walk this Way. (That Aerosmith was in on the remix further diminishes any argument against it.) Yet, when Lady GaGa channeled Madonna in her hit, Born this Way it felt like a shameless rip off. In this context the difference is obvious. One is okay and the other not so much.

Advertising (and design) is another animal, however. Are not the white lines grayer than with art? I still think my “building on” theory applies, which suggests Goodby crossed the line…unless, of course, you believe in a statute of limitations. Like I said: tricky.


12 Responses to “Is Goodby’s new logo plagiarized and does it even matter?”

  1. Gene P. said

    A proper homage works if the audience is familiar with the original source material. For instance, the endless homages to “American Gothic” (by Grant Wood) work because we know the original that inspired the “imitators” and it’s fun to play along. In Goody’s case, however, that which is being saluted is not known. So, even if Rich Silverstein is paying a personal homage to something from another era, it starts to smack of plagiarism. Yes, it’s tricky and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt…but still think that GSP should make like another San Francisco firm – the GAP – and walk away from their new logo…pronto.

  2. dustindsmith said

    Hey Steff. As always, nice post!!! Just wrote something a week or so ago about another act of “plagiarism”. I started writing it the day before the GSP logo issue came up. Thought I’d add this to the discussion

  3. Tad DeWree said

    Advertising folks coop so many ideas from art, film and pop culture, knockoffs are inevitable. In the Goodby case, it’s a bit more agregious because it undermines the trade. We are paid to create definitive, unique trademarks. While it might be an homage.. “inspired by…” or “referenced from”–the fact remains-it’ should have never been presented. Sadly, there is no recourse-except peer review.

    My work fell victim to this recently. The irony was the work stolen was a faux disclaimer threatening Chuck Norris pirates. Who knew
    three years later, Sony would use the logo for the Karate Kid Remake: You decide.

    Goodby erred badly on this one. They’re too good to try and defend this.

  4. dean said

    I say everyone around the country rip off Goodby ads and then ask Goodby about it again.

  5. Noel Haan said

    It matters. but, everyone makes mistakes.


  6. peter rosch said

    How much of your own logic as it pertains to mimicking, copying, paying homage, and using as inspiration did you apply while developing your novel, which, while I’m sure is quite different in its prose and themes, sounds a lot like the main plot from the movie “Oh, God!” and its sequels.

    I am genuinely curious, and while the tone of my comment might read snarky, i assure you it is not meant to be. I simply wonder, as a creative, where the line-not-to-be-crossed will be drawn in the minds of the public, and that of the creators, as it becomes more and more difficult to produce something that has never, ever been done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: