Thursday, March 26, 2015

Did Motorola rip off a Talking Heads song?

Talking Heads: Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison (via Slate)

It's always a hard call when advertisers decide to use "original" music in an ad that is heavily evocative of an established song.

Listen to this ad, and make note of any classic songs that come to mind:

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Yeah, me too. But is it plagiarism? That's for lawyers to decide.

From inside the ad agency world, I can tell you exactly how this went down. Creative teams often draw inspiration from songs they like. The ones with very healthy budgets, and willing rock stars, may actually get the chance to licence that song. But that's the exception.

Often, the song even gets used in the creative presentation, or in the case of a TV ad, it might be used to score the animatic. (A moving storyboard, used in pre-production.) Even early edits may have that song in them, just to help with pacing and tone.

But if the song is, ultimately, unattainable, the team eventually needs to brief a commercial composer. These briefings often include "something like [name of song or artist]" or the song itself may be used as an example in the briefing. This is normal.

For example, when we were doing a government of Canada ad a few years ago, I briefed the composer using Arcade Fire videos. However, I didn't say "make it sound like Arcade Fire," or "Make it sound like 'The Suburbs' or 'We Used to Wait'," I told told him I wanted "a contemporary alt-rock sound that will appeal to 20-somethings but still be appropriate for a government job training ad." The result was just what we wanted, but it was its own thing.

Even emulating a distinctive style can be problematic. In 1992, Tom Waits sued Frito-Lay for hiring a singer who sounded like him for an ad. He was awarded more than two million dollars.

The Motorola case is a little less open and shut. But it did catch the attention of Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz. Chris is married to Bassist Tina Weymouth, who wrote the bassline that the ad music partially emulates.

Chris asked his Facebook network, "My friends, if you have a moment, please click on this link and scroll down to "Play Video." Play the video and please tell me your thoughts. Thanks."

The verdict by friends and fans was that they didn't just hear "Psycho Killer" in the ad, but also Tom Tom Club's hit "Wordy Rappinghood."

Some felt it was a stretch. But at a time when Sam Smith willing pays Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for "accidentally" lifting the structure of a hit song, or Robin Thicke and Pharrel try to pre-emptively sue the family of the artist they were "inspired" by, these are high-stakes issues.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Air Canada unilaterally dissolves Confederation

In 1864, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, was the site of a conference to discuss the formation of Canada. While Maritime provinces Nova Scotia and New Brunswick ended up joining with Ontario and Quebec to form the new country in 1867, PEI held out until 1873. The other province of Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland, was the last to join in 1949, until Nunavut was established in the '90s.

Atlantic Canadians were predictably outraged by the copywriting gaffe.

Although, considering that some Newfoundlanders still think they were robbed of their independence by Joey Smallwood's referendum, the ad was probably better received on George Street.

Air Canada, for its part, decided to see the silver lining:

Ah, Canada!

Monday, March 23, 2015

A week without advertising

I just got back from a week in Cuba. For Americans and others who have never visited, apart from the Communist dictatorship and the old cars, it's not that weird a place. People are friendly, tourist areas are well-developed, and they are very slowly starting to evolve into a more entrepreneurial economy.

However, for someone who spends the majority of his waking hours creating advertising and consuming social media, there were two major media differences between my world and theirs:

  • Almost no commercial advertising, with the exception of nationally-owned brands; and
  • Very limited access to wifi or any internet

Cubans are not officially allowed private internet access, to allow the regime to control what news they get from the outside world. They can access at specific public (presumably monitored) areas, and their mobile phones are voice and text only.

My hotel had wifi available in the lobby for a fee, and I could have roamed on a foreign data network, but it seemed like a good opportunity to put myself on a modern media fast. And man! Was that ever refreshing.

I have a reputation for being addicted to Facebook and Twitter, so when I came back home people were surprised that I didn't feel any withdrawal whatsoever. I'm glad I have access to digital media at home, but a short vacation from the 24-hour news cycle and the constant international networking opportunities did wonders for my state-of-mind.

The saddest thing I saw, at our resort, was Canadian and European teenagers hanging out in the lobby to keep their smartphones connected to their peers. They were right beside the finest beach in the Caribbean, surrounded by one of the world's most interesting national cultures, and they couldn't live without knowing what Becky said about Madison today. Their loss.

We even avoided turning on our hotel TV, with its international cable channels, so I literally did not see a private-sector ad all week. Every poster, every billboard, and even every graffiti in Varadero, Matanzas, and Havana was part of the government propaganda machine (see above). But even those communications were few and far between.

Even business signs (this one for Hemingway's hideout in Old Havana) are subtle.
It wasn't until I was stuck in the endless bureaucratic lineups to leave Varadero airport that I spotted what I recognized as advertising, albeit government-owned. And that's just because this Cuban tourism campaign runs in Canada all winter:

Advertising has been my livelihood for 25 years, so I certainly appreciate the industry. But what an interesting experience to be cut off from media saturation, even for a week. It really gives you a sense of perspective.

As Cuba-US relations begin to thaw, I hope my American friends will get a chance to see this country, with its oppressive government but irrepressible culture. Maybe they'll even find a way to somehow embrace democracy and a little capitalism without turning themselves into overstimulated media junkies.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Swedish TV unveils another ridiculously twee sex ed video

They've done it again. Swedish Television’s Bacillakuten, a show about health for preschoolers, has followed up their viral video about sex organs with one about conception:

It's not quite as catchy as its predecessor, but it does have anthropomorphic sperm.

But is it too cute for its own good? Maybe. I recall my only Swedish friend, ├ůsk Wappling from Adland, hated the first video's made-up names for genitals. And I think she has a point. The sex education curriculum where I live — in Ontario, Canada — is presently being updated to include teaching kids in Grade One the appropriate names for their genitals. You'd think that sexually-progressive Swedes would demand no less than real biology.

Selling a bicycle race with a sexual assault joke

The Guardian's Suze Clemitson reports that an infamous sexual assault on the podium of the cycling event in 2013 has been parodied in a poster for the E3 Harelbeke race in Flanders.

The poster, apparently, reads “Who squeezes them in Harelbeke?” Har, har, har.

Meanwhile, assault victim Maja Leye, a "flower girl" who was groped by a man named Peter Sagan as she planted a traditional kiss on the cheek of Tour of Flanders winner Fabian Cancellara, says she was "frozen to the spot” in shock, and struggled not to react to avoid further embarrassment.

The problem with the poster, obviously, is that it communicates that unwanted sexual touching is a joke, and shouldn't be taken very seriously.

Ms. Clemitson reserves her most potent ire for the unknown agency behind the creative: "They’re like a bunch of little boys giggling at a glimpse of boob or arse, virtually masturbating over the idea of their campaigns going viral."

Well, here's your international attention, guys: You're assholes.