Ogilvy takes up the Plagiarism Mantle

23 Oct,2019


By Prabhakar Mundkur


I believe the etymology of the word plagiarism comes from the Latin ‘plagiarius’ which means ‘kidnapper, seducer, plunderer’.  And for any creative and ideas person who has been the subject of plagiarism, the meaning runs true.  It actually does feel like your idea was kidnapped. The immense hurt and insult it metes out to the originator of an idea is unparalleled. Plagiarism has a long history and perhaps the first time the word was used was in the context of literature in 80 AD and with reference to the Roman poet Martial. Not surprising. Poetry, literature, music, the other arts and the whole history of man’s ideation is plagued by plagiarism. Roman architects I believe would present elaborate plans for aqueducts and bridges but decline to give the angle of the keystone involved for the arches because they were afraid of plagiarism.


It was high time someone took up the mantle of protecting the advertising industry, and I can’t help feeling that Ogilvy as the industry leader has taken up this important cause. Unfortunately, I think the court has taken a weak stand already by allowing Vivo to continue with the advertising and by asking Vivo to deposit a crore with the court – that is just 2% of the reported spend on the campaign. If we are convinced that there was a striking similarity between the storyboard presented by Ogilvy and the final version produced by Dentsu, we need not go any further. Guilt is already established. The defence of simultaneous creative outputs being similar is a weak one in this case, while it is known to happen both in art and science, purely on probabilistic terms.  While it is remotely possible that Dentsu arrived at the same idea with amazingly striking similarities, one can’t forget that there is a referee who is in this case the client, who was examining both pieces of creative and obviously in great detail.  So that makes at least the client culpable!


After all, what would the fair and ethical client do?  He would tell Dentsu that they already have a similar idea from a pitch Ogilvy made and ask them to work on an alternative idea.  There is one more reason why this sounds like a client led plagiarism.  If Vivo rejected Ogilvy’s idea of the script which was developed over a period of many months, how is it they approved a script from Dentsu which had striking similarities?  If the idea had no merit, the Dentsu script should have been rejected as well.


Is it the first time this kind of plagiarism is happening from unethical clients?  Not at all.


Just last year, I pitched for a very reputable Indian bank.  We were told that the selection process would take about a month.  Then a week later, my creative director opens his Facebook page and he finds the ad he had presented at the pitch staring at him in the face.  Personally, I believe that plagiarism has gone on for too long, and that agencies have been too weak in wanting to do anything about it.  So, kudos to Ogilvy for standing up!   Remember, it is only someone who is proud of their work who will stand up.


Other cases of Plagiarism

A few years ago in Malaysia Dentsu Otama was accused of plagiarizing the artwork of British designer Tom Anders unfortunately for the World Wildlife Fund which is such a well known brand.



Tom claimed copyright infringement. His work was published on 27th April 2014, and the WWF ad appeared on 22nd July 2015.


Do clients admit to Plagiarism?

Oh yes they do. If they are honest and have a moral compass. Mcdonalds for example pulled their ad out of the media when they are supposed to have copied photographer Kristina Bakrevski that captures pictures of her friend David Sikorski staring lovingly at a burrito.

In fact, Mcdonalds accepted the mistake with grace when they told Adweek, “This shouldn’t have happened, and, with our agency partner, we’re working to find out how it did. We’re reaching out to David Sikorski and Kristina Bakrevski. We apologise to them, their fans and ours.


What is the way forward for agencies?

Typically because of the nature of the industry, plagiarism happens during pitches. Pitches are for free and the ideas then remain with the client.  Often clients share their own information with great caution by asking the ad agency to sign a NDA so that their information is held in great confidentiality.

For some reason the ad industry takes a servile position by not asking the client to sign a similar NDA for the work that they are likely to present to the client. After all most confidentiality and NDA Agreements start with the following statement “For all purposes of this agreement, the term “Confidential Information” shall collectively refer to all non-public information or material information or material disclosed or provided by one party to the other, either orally or in writing….”.


It is high time the ad industry plugged loopholes to protect their intellectual property.


And what will happen to the Ogilvy-Vivo case and what will the courts decide?


Will Vivo have the same grace as Mcdonalds to admit that the two pieces of work which Ogilvy and Dentsu provided to them were strikingly similar and only they had the knowledge of the similarities?


Not if they don’t have a moral compass.


Prabhakar Mundkur is a veteran adperson and now a prolific commentator. His views here are personal


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