The Chevy Dilemma

Posted on Sunday, 6th November 2011 @ 02:49 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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Remember Under Pressure Festival? While it’s expected that the artwork – graffiti, of course – created during the festival would be photographed, admired, hated on, scowled at and generally given any number of reactions that graffiti gets, it wasn’t expected that it would erupt into a property and copyright argument. Some of the art created during the Under Pressure Festival in Montreal this year have been used without permission or payment in Chevrolet’s latest print and video campaign, “Mixed and Mastered”. The ads show the Chevy Sonic zipping around through a montage of fun-looking driving scenarios, one of which is a motif of urban-cool-inner-city-terrain. No surprise, they wanted to add some graffiti to those scenes. The print ads also feature the painted walls as a backdrop for the micro-sized Sonic.

Maybe MacLaren McCann, Chevy’s agency and producer of these ads, consider graffiti to be found art. Maybe they didn’t realize that the art was sitting there behind the car. Ok, unlikely. Maybe they were ma king use of a free opportunity to place their product against a beautiful, demographically appealing background, like a Hummer backed by rolling sand dunes or a Subaru on the salt lakes of Australia. And maybe, just maybe, they were plain taking advantage of an artist’s work. That’s exactly what many artists will think (and are already vocal about) upon seeing unpaid for art used in a marketing campaign, the intention of which is to drum up profit. Can an agency be punished for utilizing artwork made within the public domain (therefore considered public ownership)? Hence, we’re brought to the big question of copyright and ownership of street art and graffiti. Can one be expected to pay royalties for a piece of art that is there for public display and consumption? Nope. What are the artist’s rights here? Uncertain at best. Was the ad agency exercising resourcefulness? Yes. Was that resourcefulness executed in an ungracious manner? Absolutely. Is this a cool move for a brand that is selling a product for the young, urban (hipster) buyer. Duh, no.


The ideal course of action, if we could start  from the beginning, would be for Chevy’s marketing team to approach MacLaren McCann and say, “Hey, we like graffiti. Give us graffiti.” The ad agency would then say, “Graffiti? Cool! We can totally do graffiti!” McCann would then search out their graffiti artist of choice and have them produce a piece – for an mutually agreed upon fee – and that piece would even possibly become property of Chevy. Because they paid for it.

You see, Chevy, what you’ve actually done here is pissed off a whole bunch of graffiti artists and their sympathizers. Like this:

Maybe that doesn’t matter to you, a car company with a rather conservative reputation, but then what were you doing “mixing and mastering” images of your car with graffiti? You want this young, hip, fuel-conscious market? Then play fair, Chevy! I’m almost positive that no sales will be lost in the middle of this (eye-roll inducing) incident but if in the future you want to use urban art icons in your advertising, stop and ask yourself: What Would Toyota Do?


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