The English cleric Charles Colton coined the phrase: ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’ And certainly in the advertising industry, creatives are encouraged to assimilate from and be inspired by great exponents of comedy, writing, art, films, music and culture.
But there is a clear line between being inspired by creative culture and shamelessly stealing from it. And it’s a line that Leo Burnett (Brazil) has arguably crossed in their print campaign ‘Car v Jeep’, which picked up a D&AD pencil for Art Direction this morning.
Our senior art director took one look at the campaign and instantly cried foul: ‘They’re ripping off Malika Favre!’ It happens that Bryony is a huge fan of the talented French illustrator, whose unmistakable style – simple, striking and bold management of colour and space – has established her as one of our most sought after graphic artists in Europe, with clients including The New Yorker, Vogue, BAFTA and Penguin books.
The Leo Burnett work for Jeep certainly bears an uncanny resemblance to works from Malika’s celebrated ‘On the Draw’ series for the Canary Islands Tourist Board. We’ve reproduced the images here for comparison. Note the simple colour palette; striking hilltop vistas; winding road with chevron road sign; white birds dotting the distant blue horizon; right down to the relief lines that edge the topography. Coincidence? Seems unlikely. Yet the Leo Burnett work is credited not to Malika, but to a Brazillian illustrator named ‘Kako’. Interestingly, Kako chooses not to feature this campaign on his website, possibly because it’s rendered in a transparently different way to his own house style.
So why draw attention to this? Well, if you consider yourself a champion of creativity, it follows that you should champion originality and the rights of creative artists. D&AD’s own simple criteria for admission to their annual is that work should be, first and foremost, ‘an original idea’. The Jeep campaign has been awarded for its beautiful art direction, yet that visual style seems entirely appropriated. And without the consent of the artist, who has responded on Twitter: ‘Being ripped off is something I am almost getting used by now to, but if they start winning awards it’s a different story … plain wrong.’
Without the visual style, the campaign is empty of anything inspiring or original. It tells us absolutely nothing about Jeep that we don’t already know. One finds it hard to believe that the client has briefed the agency to communicate that ‘Jeeps are different to cars because they can go off-road.’ Jeep boasts decades of great and original advertising that has moved the brand well beyond that ‘page 1’ proposition.
It does look a lot like the agency has retrofitted a paper-thin idea to a beautiful and compelling illustrative style. Which makes you wonder what value they have added and question why they are being awarded. Not least because that style was born in the mind, the eyes and the hands of an artist who has not been given the credit – or recompense – she surely deserves.