Vivo-Ogilvy spat: Agency-client relationships have come under scanner again

Topics Vivo | Ogilvy India | Ogilvy

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Advertising agencies have long sparred with each other over instances of copying and plagiarism. But rarely have agencies dragged ‘clients’ into these rifts, choosing not to mar their relationship with advertisers. The ongoing Vivo-Ogilvy spat, however, has rewritten the... well... unwritten rules.

For one, the Ogilvy group has not hesitated to hold smartphone maker Vivo responsible for what it claims is an act of “copyright infringement” with respect to an ad featuring actor Aamir Khan. Second, it has opted to go to court rather than approach an industry body (such as the Advertising Standards Council of India or ASCI) for resolving the dispute. “Chapter 4 of the ASCI Code speaks about plagiarism in detail. But the parties concerned may have wanted an immediate resolution to the matter and have therefore opted to go to court,” said Shweta Purandare, secretary general, ASCI. “We do not step in if the matter is subjudice,” she said.

A mail sent to Ogilvy elicited no response till the time of going to press. But ad experts say that at the heart of the matter is the sensitive issue of pitching for advertising business. While a few decades ago, goodwill and word-of-mouth were largely responsible for ad agencies bagging advertising mandates from clients, the advent of the 1990s saw ‘creative pitches’ as a practice gaining ground, said KV Sridhar, an ad industry veteran, who now runs his own agency called HyperCollective.

“Competitive intensity and shrinking commissions have been largely responsible for pitching activity going up significantly. There is hardly any sanctity left to the pitch process,” he said. “Clients call agencies for pitch presentations. Ideas and strategies are exchanged during these meetings, but the business is not awarded to the agency. What happens to those ideas then? They find their way into ad campaigns done by some other agency partner. This is unacceptable and simply driving the industry down, which is already grappling with the issue of poor commissions,” he said.

Vivo and Dentsu Impact, the former’s agency partner, have both said they have not lifted Brand David’s idea. Brand David is part of the Ogilvy group and is the plaintiff in the ongoing suit in the Bombay High Court concerning the Aamir-Khan ad. Vivo said in a statement, “Our values are built on strong ethical foundations. We accord a lot of attention to our work. The matter is subjudice and we shall wait for the law to take its course.” 

Dentsu Impact said,”We have no reason to resort to any kind of plagiarism, as we have no dearth of talent in our agency. What we created is completely our original work. We have always maintained this before the High Court.”

While pitch fees could serve as a strong deterrent to clients seeking ideas through presentations, some experts say the top 10 agencies should unite against the practice of creative pitches. An agency leader, who declined to be quoted, said, “While Ogilvy has taken the lead to raise the issue of plagiarism during pitching, it is hardly visible at industry events including Goafest. So how do you get agencies to come together?”

Some agencies such as Taproot Dentsu, said industry sources, charge stiff pitch fees when invited to make a presentation, while some others such as Lowe do not participate in pitching activity. Experts said more agencies should decline making creative presentations  to clients. 

Ambi Parameswaran, founder,, said, “It is good this issue is being raised. But I am not sure whether the practice of creative pitches will stop after this episode. What agencies can do is make it clear at all stages of the pitch process that they have the copyright over ideas being presented by them or they should charge a stiff fee to forgo their copyright over  the idea. This way the ambiguity over copyright infringement between the client and the agency will reduce.”

In the Vivo-Ogilvy matter, the advertiser had said in its arguments in court that there was no copyright over an idea, in this case, an “amusement park”. “There is no confidential information involved here,” Vivo contended. “Copyright laws are not to be construed in a fashion whereby a  theme cannot be used in future television commercials. There were many dis-similarities between the pitch and the final commercial that appeared on air,” it said.

Clearly, the battle has just begun and will be fierce.

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