AT&T ad by BBDO agency rips off Christo and Jeanne Claude

Yadda yadda yadda. Yet another blog post that’s probably giving AT&T more press coverage than they could have dreamed of. But I have to believe that someday, somewhere, there will be a reckoning and, dammit, I want to have my say. Besides, ask BP at the moment whether it’s necessarily true that any publicity is good publicity. It ain’t necessarily so…

My case is simply this: first, Christo and Jeanne Claude were prominent artists. That means that their art is sufficiently well-known that any claim of a resemblance between BBDO’s use of the draping fabric over large objects and Christo and Jeanne Claude’s use of same being a mere coincidence would have to be rejected.

Second, Christo and Jeanne Claude were conceptual artists. Their art was not in the building of the stuff, but in the idea to do so. Their art, in rather lay, gouche terms, could be described as “draping or wrapping large things in fabric.” It’s what they completed in 20 publicly executed art projects, and what they conceived of in 38 or so more. So anyone doing something like draping or wrapping large buildings and monuments must necessarily be seen as at least “lifting” from Christo and Jeanne Claude.

There are two reasons why this is important. Christo and Jeanne Claude were fiercely independent with regard to the production of their art. They would never accept a sponsorship or any sort of payment for their art. The entire purpose of the AT&T ad is, on the other hand, to generate revenue. There’s a significant disconnect between Christo and Jeanne Claude’s art and BBDO’s craft.

Second, Jeanne Claude died less than a year ago. While no one ever accused the advertising industry of being “decent,” if they’re going to rip off someone’s idea like this, it would have been nicer, and somehow more understandable and appropriate as at least a nod, if not a tribute, to at least wait until the body was cold. The way they have done it here is really pretty despicable.

No disclaimer is really sufficient. It’s like presenting a bit of factual reportage as fiction by changing the names and saying “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” Disingenuous statements can generally be seen as such, at least by sufficiently educated observers. How this one will shake out remains to be seen. It is a pretty sad thing that Christo, if he were to choose to ardently fight this rip off of his work, would have to do so on his own now for the first time in over 50 years, when he is likely focused on other aspects of life.

That may be how AT&T ultimately gets away with it. This, more than anything else, makes me say to AT&T and BBDO: shame on you.

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