Please Stop Stealing

With the tumultuous 2016 presidential election ahead of us, you can’t crawl out of bed without something political crawling in — or maybe that’s just my problem with reading the news in bed on my phone most mornings. But that’s how I came across this Ad Age story about Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign stealing agency Spark’s brand concept.

Business cat copyright memeWith the tumultuous 2016 presidential election ahead of us, you can’t crawl out of bed without something political crawling in — or maybe that’s just my problem with reading the news in bed on my phone most mornings. But that’s how I came across this Ad Age story about Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign stealing agency Spark’s brand concept.

Sigh.

Today I don’t want to talk about politics … instead I want to look at the major issue of people not understanding that you can’t just rip things off. This isn’t Instagram basically copying the Stories idea from Snapchat (you can’t copyright ideas … though it’s still not highly advisable unless if you can innovate upon it).

I already yelled about this when Quirk Ford, a franchise dealership of Ford, stole art from indie developer Campo Santos’ game Firewatch. And now here we are about six weeks later.

Now, I recommend reading through the Ad Age story “Agency Says Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson Stole Its Brand Concept” because Kate Kaye nails it with her reporting. But the quick version is this: Tampa, Fla.-based agency Spark came up with a brand concept for Gary Johnson’s campaign … essentially for kicks. And then the campaign started using it, without permission.

From Ad Age:

In June, the agency published its quarterly magazine, Stick, which featured a variety of articles relating to the “underdog” theme. The agency — which does not work with political clients — decided to take a stab at creating branding specs for an underdog political campaign and chose to use the third party hopeful, former New Mexico governor and triathlete, as its guinea pig.

“We looked at it from a pure brand standpoint,” said Elliott Bedinghaus, VP-creative at Spark, adding, “Our intent for this was never to work with Gary Johnson.”

How hard would it have been for the Johnson campaign to reach out to Spark to discuss their work, and perhaps ask for permission to use the concept? The campaign, according to Ad Age had not returned multiple requests for comment.

In response to this whole snafu, Spark made this video responding to the issue. Watch it … all 41 seconds of it … to see how the pros handle things.

Spark … you are CLASSY. “If you’re going to swipe, swipe right.” Even classier is the site, hellogaryjohnson.com, and here’s a little taste of it:

Hellogaryjohnson.com site Hellogaryjohnson.com site“Here’s a little guidance for how we intended the concept to be executed,” the site reads or, in other words, “Hey, you’re doing it wrong.” Spark even provides downloadable working files.

And then includes this short note:

All in all, we’re excited that you’re giving our work greater visibility by making it a part of your campaign. And, political views aside, that’s a pretty big win in our book. Let’s just do this thing the right way.

If you’re gonna steal, steal smart … and as Spark said, if you’re gonna swipe, swipe right. Now Spark acknowledges the visibility it will receive, but still hits home the message: There’s a right way to do this.

You rarely win when you steal things, and with Gary Johnson’s political campaign and Quirk Ford … you end up looking dishonest, incompetent and … well, lazy. No one wants that, and it’s not that hard to avoid.

Marketers, strive to be above board. Agencies and consultants, do the work to keep your clients informed. And maybe we can all move past this.

Oh yeah, and here’s my video on Quirk Ford’s “art heist” if you want to see me get all up in arms and legitimately yell:

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Quick update: According to Spark, the Gary Johnson campaign DID reach out and apologize. You can see this mention here on the Youtube page comments for the video (though they mix up Ad Age and Ad Week …)