Theft in the world of advertising is rarely accidental; it is part of the craft.
In the case of a new McDonald’s spot for Latin America, the ad agency DPZ&T didn’t alter their reference enough, so McDonald’s released a commercial featuring animated cows that blatantly ripped off the work of independent English animator Cyriak Harris.
The ad even used Cyriak’s layout and animation timing from his film Cows & Cows & Cows, as you can see in this side-by-side comparison.
The studio that animated the spot, Buenos Aires-based Juan Solo has openly admitted that they used Cyriak’s work as “reference,” though they seem to be unclear on what the word reference actually means. Leandro Pedrouzo, an owner of the studio, wrote on an online message board: “Actually Cyriak was the reference for this Spot. The director and I wanted to go a bit more realistic but the client loved the ref.”
However, a spokeswoman for DPZ&T, the Brazilian agency responsible for the spot, denies that Cyriak inspired the spot, saying that they came up with the bouncing cow idea before they ever saw his work. The DPZ&T rep also told BuzzFeed News that it was “common to use creative references in the advertising industry.”
After Cyriak’s tweets about the theft went viral, McDonald’s pulled the ad, but this should not be viewed as an isolated or innocent mistake. Ad agencies make a living by using the work of independent animators as “reference.” Sometimes, the animators are lucky and they’ll actually be hired to direct the spot, or they’ll receive some other form of compensation, but in most cases, like Cyriak’s case, they are simply victims.
If you know anything about how the world of advertising works, then you know that the job title of “creative director” at an ad agency basically means a 25-year-old hipster who spends the entire day on Youtube trolling for other people’s ideas. When the creative director finds an idea they are “inspired” by, they pitch it to the client, then they alter it ever so slightly so as to make it appear that they actually came up with the idea, or more brilliantly, are paying homage to someone else’s work.
Amazingly, this isn’t even the first time that McDonald’s has ripped off Cyriak’s work. A Swedish McDonald’s commercial (below) from a few years back also stole his visual concept wholesale. “In general they get away with it because it is expensive and stressful to fight back, and because they are re-creating the visuals it is often no more than a similarity, even if it is blatantly referencing the original,” Cyriak told Buzzfeed. “The frustrating thing is that in an ideal world artists and advertisers form a symbiotic relationship where each helps the other.”