Does AT&T TV spot copy Bosnian ad, Christo?

A spot in AT&T's "Rethink Possible" causes controversy in the art world. Now a cell phone ad from Bosnia and Herzegovina- shot in 2007--seems to bear something of a similarity to the AT&T spot.

One of AT&T's new TV spots seems to be covering itself with something considerably less than glory, as all sorts of people toss accusations of, if not plagiarism, then at least strange insensitivity.

The spot is the one where large orange-colored drapes are tossed over buildings and beaches to prove that the company covers 97 percent of all known germs. Oh, wait, perhaps I've muddled a couple of ads up. But I've embedded it for your satisfaction.

When this ad first emerged a few days ago, the art world's beady Cyclopian eye bulged like the national debt and its voice uttered a scream that could be heard at the bottom of that accursed Icelandic volcano.

You see, it does bear some resemblance to the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the folks who covered up the Reichstag in Berlin in 1995 with drapes and then obfuscated parts of Central Park in New York in 2005 in a project called "The Gates."

Perhaps not understanding that "The Gates" was, indeed, a tribute to Microsoft's great ability in covering New York and the world with its software, members of the art fraternity offered the word "shocking" when they saw the AT&T spot.

Their feelings might well have been exacerbated by the fact that Jeanne-Claude died in November of last year, her memorial service being held in New York on April 26. Some people even thought this was an official tribute to the art of Christo, in which case they were, perhaps, slightly unfamiliar with the import that many in the commercial world hold for art.

Still, art might have some power, as the end frame of the spot now reads "The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with AT&T."

It's a difficult area, this. Who was inspired by what pictures, what ideas, what narcotics consumed late on a lonely night? Sometimes the people themselves don't really know.

However, please hold on to your objectivity for as long as you can while I tell about Bosnia and Herzegovina. There you will find a cell phone provider called Eronet. And the company created an ad that involved, well, its workers covering large swaths of Bosnia with large red/orange drapes. This was in 2007 and is now embedded right here.

Not for one moment would I suggest that anyone at AT&T's ad agency saw the Bosnian spot and was inspired by it. Any more than I would suggest that the same creative group was inspired by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. And I am a loyal AT&T customer and have been for a long time.

However, there are those who work in ad agencies and, indeed, in client marketing departments, who spend some of their days looking at ads from their categories--in this case, telephony--from all around the world.

Is it possible that there was some telephony telepathy here? Is it possible that when you're being told to "Rethink Possible," you never know whose thinking you might rethink?

I did contact AT&T, but have yet to receive a reply.

 

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