Jan 20, 2010
22 January: Please see the update at the end of this post for what happened next.
Dear Grey London,
I’ve just been made aware of the ad you were involved with creating for Horlicks.
In the middle of the advert at 1’15″, amid the collection of shots of coffee/tea/beverage making and drinking, there’s a brief shot which is slightly different.
It’s a woman sitting on a tube train going along an above-ground track. She’s holding a book in front of her face. The book’s cover depicts a woman’s face. I’ve screengrabbed it below:
I find it very difficult to believe that this shot wasn’t styled on this image I took and posted in August 2006, which has since become well-circulated on the internet.
Your treatment is startlingly similar to my original photo, right down to the woman; the hand position; the ring; the tube above ground; the styling of the cover; the sweep of the hair; the man with his head down, reading next to her.
I’ve written before about advertising agencies using internet-popular ideas and artwork as source material for campaigns, but there’s a fine line between homage and rip-off.
Should I submit an invoice for the portion of the creative work that I unknowingly did on your behalf? Or would acknowledgement of your inspiration be out of the question?
PS If anyone else reading this has any ideas about what I might be able to do about this, please let me know in the comments below or via email or Twitter. Thanks.
I spoke to Hugo Feiler, MD of Grey London today, after the creative director of the ad forwarded on the email I’d sent him about the issue. Mr Feiler was very pleasant, and said (transcribed from notes taken on phone):
“On reflection, I would agree that we had been influenced by your photo … we shouldn’t have gone on to use such a similar image without speaking to you first, so I’m very sorry about that”
He offered to have the film re-edited to remove the chunk in question. I declined this, but asked him to ask the production company involved to remove the still from their site as proof of their creativity. He has done this since our call.
In addition, as a gesture of goodwill, Mr Feiler offered to make a generous donation in my name to a charity of my choice. I accepted this and am pleased that Oxfam’s Haiti emergency appeal has been able to benefit from this experience.
He went on to say that he would have said and offered exactly the same thing if I’d spoken to him privately before “going public” on my blog, but he understands why I did because of what I do for a living. (I’d actually sent email via the Grey website, to the production company and to the CD’s personal site).
I don’t think that my work was copied maliciously or through an attempt to decieve or claim credit: I’ve worked with enough creative agencies to know how easy it is for something to slip from early-stage random found object moodboard into a concept storyboard and then through to the produced object, all the while getting further and further from the original credited influence. As with most things like this, Hanlon’s razor applies (and especially the Sir Bernard Ingham variant).
In summary, I am reassured that this has been handled in a timely and considerate way by Hugo at Grey London: I’m glad that they’ve apologised and acknowledged the influence of my work, and feel sure that they will have learnt a lesson from this experience about how random internet influences are handled within their creative processes.