UPS and Ogilvy on Apparent Rip-Off: No Similarities Here! Who’s Ryan Johnson?

See the evidence for yourself.


[We’ve reached out to several representatives for Ogilvy Mather, UPS, and Johnson. See their replies below. ? Ed.]


Great artists make; great ad-agencies steal.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but isn’t it shameful how often ad-agencies lift the ideas of others? There are, for example, those Christo rip-off ads AT&T has been flogging; and we wrote before about how Absolut blatantly stole the work of Stefan Sagmeister and was all, “We’re so inspiring at creative! Doesn’t this break your heart!” And an article we wrote about a new billboard in Times Square touched off a firestorm over artistic credit-sharing, in which some of the world’s greatest interactive artists weighed in.

We’ve caught another ad agency at the same old tricks. The image you see above was an outdoor sculpture created by Ogilvy & Mather — under creative direction by Gary Caulfield, Millaty Ismail, and Alfa Aphrodita — which is meant to visualize “speed” and has popped up in various locations across Jakarta. Too bad it also happens to share blatant similarities with a piece by one of our favorite sculptors working today, Ryan Johnson. See for yourself. On the left is the UPS campaign. On the right is Pedestrian, from 2007:


More images:


Now, you might still think that there’s no way a bunch of ad hacks from Jakarta could have seen the work of a relatively obscure artist in New York. But Johnson’s work has been extremely prominent on sites such as DesignBoom and Ffffound (which in particular, as any designer will tell you, has become a first-reference for creatives looking for “inspiration”).

If Ogilvy & Mather did lift this idea — and I think it’s telling that this occurred in Jakarta, rather than say, New York, where the artist lives — what I find particularly gross is that they took it from someone small enough that few people would ever notice. Indeed, they might have gotten away with it. At least AT&T and Chartered had the decency to do such a blatant rip-off that they couldn’t help but be called out.


Ogilvy responds:

The Ogilvy creative team in Jakarta, which was solely responsible for the ad concept, was unaware of Mr. Johnson and his work. Any similarity between his work and our installation is coincidental. Creative integrity is a fundamental value of our company and a non-negotiable requirement of our client, UPS.

UPS responds:


From UPS’s perspective, we certainly understand and appreciate your concern, but Ogilvy has given us every assurance that their creative team in Jakarta had no knowledge of Ryan Johnson or his work. Given our long association with Ogilvy in Asia, we believe them. Ogilvy, and every other agency or vendor that represents UPS in some way, understands that we will not allow anyone to compromise the integrity or value of our brand.

In light of the side-by-side images above, these responses seem laughable, right? Note the similarities in pose, proportion, and pixel density–and note how the precise similarities extend all the way to the L-shaped support on the forward leg. And now it gets even nuttier:

Johnson responds:

How can they claim that they never saw Pedestrian? The evidence is undeniable and infuriating… Stranger still is that I grew up in Jakarta as my parents were teachers at the Jakarta International School. Also strange is that an ad agency in Germany working on a pitch for DHL contacted me a few years ago and were wondering if they could use the image of Pedestrian.

So does that make Ogilvy doubly unoriginal?


We’ve actually covered another unfortunate instance of uncanny similaries courtesy of Ogilvy–in particular, how they seemed to appropriate another artist in a campaign for AmEx. But in that case, Amex yanked the ads and apologized to the original artist. Johnson should get at least as much.


[Thanks to Copyranter for finding the UPS shot shown in the side-by-side comparison]

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.