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7-Eleven SG's Hawker Fiesta campaign: Inspiration or imitation?

7-Eleven SG's Hawker Fiesta campaign: Inspiration or imitation?

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Yesterday, 7-Eleven Singapore said that it has removed images of its Hawker Fiesta campaign. The removal came as design studio 8EyedSpud put out a statement on Instagram calling out the ad for similarities to a campaign it had done around the Singapore Hawker Culture. The founders of the studio shared with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the similarities the 7-Eleven campaign bore to the original work for Singapore Hawker Culture were too "many to be simply be taken as inspiration".

Founders Natalie Kwee and Jacqueline Goh also told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the publishing of the post led to an outcry of support from the creative community where many other local creative artists reached out, sharing similar experiences.

“They were either bullied into silence or had the campaigns quietly taken down without any public acknowledgment. Sadly this seems to be something that happens more frequently than it should. [...] We also hope fellow artists and illustrators know that they can reach out to others in the community for advice on how to speak out or engage with companies if such an unfortunate incident were to occur. In this case we were very lucky that action was taken and we did receive an acknowledgement and response. We hope that this experience lets other artists feel empowered should they ever encounter such a thing,” the founders shared.

Industry view on the copy

Nonetheless the line between inspiration and imitation is not an easy one to define, and admitting this are the founders of 8EyedSpud themselves. “The line between inspiration and copying has always been blurry, but in this case we strongly feel that based purely on the visual comparisons shown in our post, it leans heavily towards the latter,” said the duo.

They added that for artists who have had their work appropriated, it is often “very lonely and intimidating to go up against a large company” — especially when individuals are unsure of their rights, and how exactly to navigate any legal repercussions.

Robert Gaxiola, head of creative at Ampverse, and former executive creative director of Ogilvy and his own creative shop ManghamGaxiola, said that at first glance, the ad looks simply like “another painful example of how referencing an original piece of artwork from a search engine can get a creative agency in a tough spot”. This can happen with illustration, photography, and even graphic design.

He added, “I like this style of illustration, and I always have. My own agency once used a similar illustration style for a Heineken outdoor board and the entire time that board was up, in the back of my mind I was worried somebody was going to ask me, ‘Where’s Waldo?’” When asked if he viewed the work as a direct copy, Gaxiola said this can only truly be answered by the art director, creative director, and illustrator of the 7-11 piece, but in his view "obviously, it is similar”.

While the incident was undoubtedly painful for all parties involved, Gaxiola added that on the plus side, many creative in the community were able to rally together and 8EyedSpud was able to showcase the talented work it does. “The upside is, now I know more about 8EyedSpud. I loved the New Balance work, and I can’t wait to see more of their original work sometime soon,” he added.

“As an artist, ripping off someone's work should weigh heavily on your soul. At this point, you're not even an artist, you're a photocopier,” said Tobias Wilson, former chief growth officer of Media.Monks who ran his own creative shop APD earlier in his career. He added that this piece of work “doesn't just blur the lines between inspiration and straight-up theft, it jumps way over them, blatantly” and has “zero wiggle room” to feign ignorance around the similarities.

Commenting on the move by 8EyedSpud to speak about the incident, Wilson said the agency did all the right things – which is to speak to the client, speak to the agency and then go public in a very well-tempered way.

“Not to mention the OG illustrations are awesome. Bravo. As for stopping this kind of malarkey, you can't. People are greedy, people are lazy and people are bloody tired,” he added.

Long time creative veteran, and former ECD of R/GA, Calvin Soh said a move like this only highlights the abuse of power and lack of respect of creativity in the industry. “Of course it’s been going for a long time. However, in this instance, it is not the client but rather our own industry's doing," he added, referencing to the fact that the agency behind the campaign,  LH.M Advertising, took responsibility for the campaign, and explained to 8EyedSpud that it had engaged an external illustrator who drew the 7-Eleven Hawker Fiesta illustration taking reference from the Singapore Hawker Culture campaign illustrations.

Soh added that often, due to the power dynamics at play, problems such as these will remain. “Generally, if clients do it, agencies don’t want to call it out as they still want to be invited for the next pitch. If agencies do it, creatives don’t want to kill off a potential future job,” he shared. But Soh remained optimistic that as behaviours of the youths change, more such incidents will be called out:

Behaviour has changed. The balance has shifted and people are not afraid of calling it out. Long may this continue.

Juliana Ong, art buyer, The Secret Little Agency added, “What we are seeing here is pure plagiarism. Artists are often inspired by other artist, and may reference that same art to innovate beyond. That didn’t happen here.”

Similar, but maybe not a copy?

“While I do empathise and understand 8EyedSpud’s point of view, and I can see that there are similarities on some of the line art positions and scenarios, objectively ,I do have to disagree that it is outright contravening of the agency’s creative copyright,” said Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director of Formul8, an independent creative agency in Singapore.

Taking a different stance from the rest of the community, Bartholomeusz said at first glance, one might assume 7-Eleven’s work is from a template range of readily available images from a free picture library. “We see so much line art depicted these days, it’s hard to say what’s original or what’s creatively inspired from something else,” she said.

She added that it can also be tough to tell designers to not pursue a certain direction in style, and in many sectors such as banking, beauty, and automotive, ads can often look the same. So then, who is to say what is truly original?

“Nonetheless, at the very least, designers should do their homework to check if there’s anything similar out there. My take is that if it looks too polished, you have subconsciously probably seen it somewhere else, so check and ensure it’s not been used before. Reverse Google image search anyone?”

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airasia's Santan eyes ASEAN foray: 'Never copy and paste marketing strategy'
Bored Ape NFTs creator sues artist for copyright infringement under 'satire' pretense

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