Wassup Redux and Intellectual Property

The discussion of intellectual property as it relates specifically to advertising is again placed in relief. At first, I wasn’t sure about the legitimacy of ad agencies developing another revenue stream using IP from campaigns and concepts created on the behalf of a client. I always defaulted to the position that all work is owned by the client, not the agency. However, I can begin to understand the argument a bit better after viewing the “Wassup” re-mix recently posted to You Tube.

In 1999, Budweiser had an instant hit that had been created by Charles Stone. The Budweiser campaign was based on a short film called “True,” which was created by Mr. Stone and depicted the filmmaker and several of his childhood friends sitting around talking on the phone and saying “Whassup!” to one another. His concept was then purchased by Omnicom Group’s DDB Chicago. I don’t know anything about how the deal was structured, but its irrelevant to this post. The point is that an idea gained traction, was modified and then distributed to either promote or make fun of another product or group. Each replication was a direct reference to the original.

The power of the concept allowed it to migrate and still remain compelling. So who “owns” the original idea and how should credit be given to that person or entity? In this case, the benefits could be greater awareness of the creator’s talent for the purposes of more work or even direct financial compensation if the idea were licensed.

I think that, short of paying the creator to use his/her idea, creation credit should be offered up. I think the notion that an agency should retain rights to profit monetarily may be a stretch- although I’m open to hearing your argument. However, the originator should be provided bragging rights. To be able to say- “I/we created the Taco Bell Chihuahua or the Budweiser Wassup spots” is worth, at the very least, an invitation to the table for the next creative gig.

The following is the “regenerated” ad intended to deliver a political message of hope for the purpose of electing Barak Obama to the presidency.

The “Wassup” or “Whassup” ads were parodied repeatedly, as seen above. They were compelling partly because of the humor and partly because they embraced street language in no uncertain terms. DDB Chicago captured the cultural transition of Black Americana into the mainstream. It had been evolving over the last decade and slowly making its way into marketing messages. These spots put African-American slang front and center.

As a refresher, here is the original spot which sparked the knock-offs:

The host of parodies used different ethnicities or age groups, like octogenarians, Jews, The Simpsons, Arab Jihadists and many others, as a humorous platform. Here is the Jewish version glibly promoting “white fish.” This is classic stuff and reflects how quickly an advertising creation can become a cultural reference point.


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