Co.Design

UPS and Ogilvy on Apparent Rip-Off: No Similarities Here! Who's Ryan Johnson?

See the evidence for yourself.

[We've reached out to several representatives for Ogilvy Mather, UPS, and Johnson. See their replies below. ? Ed.]

Great artists make; great ad-agencies steal.

Maybe that's an exaggeration, but isn't it shameful how often ad-agencies lift the ideas of others? There are, for example, those Christo rip-off ads AT&T has been flogging; and we wrote before about how Absolut blatantly stole the work of Stefan Sagmeister and was all, "We're so inspiring at creative! Doesn't this break your heart!" And an article we wrote about a new billboard in Times Square touched off a firestorm over artistic credit-sharing, in which some of the world's greatest interactive artists weighed in.

We've caught another ad agency at the same old tricks. The image you see above was an outdoor sculpture created by Ogilvy & Mather — under creative direction by Gary Caulfield, Millaty Ismail, and Alfa Aphrodita — which is meant to visualize "speed" and has popped up in various locations across Jakarta. Too bad it also happens to share blatant similarities with a piece by one of our favorite sculptors working today, Ryan Johnson. See for yourself. On the left is the UPS campaign. On the right is Pedestrian, from 2007:

More images:

Now, you might still think that there's no way a bunch of ad hacks from Jakarta could have seen the work of a relatively obscure artist in New York. But Johnson's work has been extremely prominent on sites such as DesignBoom and Ffffound (which in particular, as any designer will tell you, has become a first-reference for creatives looking for "inspiration").

If Ogilvy & Mather did lift this idea — and I think it's telling that this occurred in Jakarta, rather than say, New York, where the artist lives — what I find particularly gross is that they took it from someone small enough that few people would ever notice. Indeed, they might have gotten away with it. At least AT&T and Chartered had the decency to do such a blatant rip-off that they couldn't help but be called out.

UPDATE


Ogilvy responds:

The Ogilvy creative team in Jakarta, which was solely responsible for the ad concept, was unaware of Mr. Johnson and his work. Any similarity between his work and our installation is coincidental. Creative integrity is a fundamental value of our company and a non-negotiable requirement of our client, UPS.

UPS responds:

From UPS's perspective, we certainly understand and appreciate your concern, but Ogilvy has given us every assurance that their creative team in Jakarta had no knowledge of Ryan Johnson or his work. Given our long association with Ogilvy in Asia, we believe them. Ogilvy, and every other agency or vendor that represents UPS in some way, understands that we will not allow anyone to compromise the integrity or value of our brand.

In light of the side-by-side images above, these responses seem laughable, right? Note the similarities in pose, proportion, and pixel density—and note how the precise similarities extend all the way to the L-shaped support on the forward leg. And now it gets even nuttier:

Johnson responds:

How can they claim that they never saw Pedestrian? The evidence is undeniable and infuriating... Stranger still is that I grew up in Jakarta as my parents were teachers at the Jakarta International School. Also strange is that an ad agency in Germany working on a pitch for DHL contacted me a few years ago and were wondering if they could use the image of Pedestrian.

So does that make Ogilvy doubly unoriginal?

UPDATE 2


We've actually covered another unfortunate instance of uncanny similaries courtesy of Ogilvy—in particular, how they seemed to appropriate another artist in a campaign for AmEx. But in that case, Amex yanked the ads and apologized to the original artist. Johnson should get at least as much.

[Thanks to Copyranter for finding the UPS shot shown in the side-by-side comparison]

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9 Comments

  • Cynthia Grossman

    that is absolutely ridiculous to claim the aren't ripping off another artist.  they could have paid for a commission by the artist, or even given some sort of credit, royalty, etc.  Finding creative talent is really hard (i know, i do it for my job), but that doesn't give a company the excuse to rip off work.

    Cynthia G.
    Vent

  • Guest

    This is a joke. How can Ogilvy deny it, and why does UPS think it's acceptable to take Ogilvy's word for it? Of course they won't admit it, that would put them out by too much. Ogilvy should be fired, the ads should be pulled, and UPS should move on or pay Johnson for some ads. There's really no discussion as to where the inspiration for these ads came from. Johnson should take it to whatever court he can, and a good lawyer should take his case with nothing up front. That would be great.

  • Melissa Barrett

    The answer is quite simple. If you are inspired by an artist's work, get the artist involved! It's a win-win situation. The artist gets some money and his/her artwork is promoted and the corporation gets something hip, new and unseen to give to the public. If the artist says no, then move on. There are thousands of struggling and talented artists waiting for that chance. Why not give it?

  • Tim Letscher

    It's pretty far-fetched to take O&M's plea of innocence since it's not only concept but also the entire execution is far too similar. Why not tip your hat and be done with it? Better yet, they should have commissioned the artist for the campaign. Regardless of the controversy, the sculptures are arresting and memorable so UPS is well-served in that respect.

  • Alissa

    Maybe it's Ogilvy's company policy? The same thing happened to artist Francois Robert when Ogilvy ripped off his "faces" work for American Express. But in that case, Amex was smart enough to pull the ads and apologize to Robert. UPS should step up and do the same. http://www.fastcompany.com/blo...

  • Sheena Medina

    Nice throwback Alissa. While certainly not new, by not admitting your transgression it only makes the offenders seem daft and more bogus than they have already revealed themselves to be.

  • Euphemia

    http://wikimapia.org/4908100/e...
    These are photos of a piece of modern sculpture in open air, in Athens, Greece. This is art, nothing to do with advertising, but what a strange coincidence. This huge statue of glass, called "The Runner" and created in 1988 by Costas Varotsos, was placed first in Omonia Square and then it was relocated in front of Hilton Hotel. And here is another coincidence, just opposite, at the time, where the offices of Bold/Ogilvy & Mather. No, I don't imply anything, as a person of advertising, I strongly believe in coincidences as I have seen them happening. Also... ;-)

  • Mark Dickens

    From UPS's perspective, we certainly understand and appreciate the concern about this issue, but Ogilvy has given us every assurance that their creative team in Jakarta had no knowledge of Ryan Johnson or his work. Given our long association with Ogilvy in Asia, we believe them. Ogilvy, and every other agency or vendor that represents UPS in some way, understands that we will not allow anyone to compromise the integrity or value of our brand.