“Advertising routinely reflects the society around it.”


General Photography

When I started posting about similar images (see this post plus the links inside it) I had a simple set of goals: To mention all the various aspects, while not having it take over this blog. Turns out you can’t have the former, without forgetting about the latter for a while. There is yet another area where recreating work done by an artist seems to be very common: Advertizing. Here are just two recent examples (there are countless more): Corey Presha just blogged about Thomas Allen getting copied by an ad agency (make sure to follow the link to Allen’s original blog post). And a reader (thank you!) sent me Denis Darzacq’s La Chute getting copied by this Cat Earthmovers Campaign.

Lesley A. Martin, publisher at Aperture (they published Allen’s book), is quoted by Corey as writing “I’m a fan of smart artists using appropriated imagery, but clumsy rip-offs of an artist’s style don’t count.” Hard to disagree with this, is it?

The Allen case is particularly juicy as you can see from the original blog post. And the letter of the “creative director” of the agency responsible for the copy is remarkable enough to quote it here:

“Dear Mr. Allen,

Inspiration can come from anywhere. We were inspired by your technique just as you were inspired by the artists who painted the original pulp novel covers. So nobody is stealing anything from anybody. Think of all the executions that Andy Warhol’s lithograph technique has inspired. Or that celebrates Shepard Fairey’s style. Or Peter Beard’s. Or Barbara Kruger’s. Or Robert Indiana’s. The list goes on and on. Advertising routinely reflects the society around it and, as a result, what is popular.
Nobody was trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.


Andy Manson
SVP Creative Director

“Advertising routinely reflects the society around it” is, of course, simply stating the facts (even though it is debatable where the statement is really 100% true).

What makes these cases different from anything going on in the art world is that here, it always seems to be the same pattern: An ad agency copying an artist. You never hear of those cases where a photographer happens to shoot something that somewhere else was created in an ad campaign. Funny, eh? Instead, there’s a clear method - and Mr Manson admits as much: You go out, look for some cool art for “inspiration”, and then you copy it.

The supreme irony, of course, is that the companies who pay for those ads wouldn’t hesitate to sue anyone who copied their products! In fact, they even do it in the cases of obvious parodies.

What truly bothers me about this is that artists whose work is getting copied (most of whom hardly make a lot of money from their art) end up with basically no other option than to, as Thomas Allen writes, shame the ad agencies. That’s it. Months or years of your life spent on a project, someone copies it, and all you’re left with is some attempt to shame the company.

Let me quote that “creative director” again: “Advertising routinely reflects the society around it.”