Music Business

Did Apple Marketing Rip Off OK Go Or Did They Simply Improve Upon Their Idea?

Ok-rubeJoshua Brustein at Businessweek looks at the possibility that a new Apple commercial is a ripoff of the original concept for OK Go's "The Writing's On the Wall" music video. Apparently they pitched the concept of the music video to Apple for a potential collaboration. Apple said no, hired the production company and the director and shot a commercial that relies on similar concepts. It's an interesting issue for a number of reasons including the perspective that Apple took the idea and got it right.

There's a famous quote, often attributed to Steve Jobs, something along the lines of:

"It's really great to steal wonderful ideas from the best artists in the world and make more money than they ever did."

That's not exactly right but you get the idea.

According to Businessweek Apple marketing may have been stealing ideas from others though where the lines are drawn between "rip off" and "taking a design concept and realizing it in a different way that results in a very different feel" is unclear to me.

Here's the Apple ad:

Apple – Perspective

Here's the OK Go video with key points at 2:15 and 3:30:

OK Go – The Writing's On the Wall – Official Video

I see two concepts being used in both videos:

The single shot moving backwards through the space. Not an original concept at all at this point in time.

The use of the visual trick of cut up letters that only look like letters from certain angles. That's not original is it? Wasn't that a design school assignment?

Putting them together. That's an idea. And it turns out to be one that OK Go's manager Andy Gershon said they pitched Apple for a video collaboration. Apple said no and the band went on to make the video without them.

Apple then went to the production company, 1stAveMachine, that worked with OK Go and they created the above ad along with the director of the music video.

Obviously one led to the next. But there's a lot missing from this story.

Who actually came up with those ideas?

What came from the production company and the director who are not a part of OK Go?

In a larger context, isn't this how culture is created?

Isn't this part of a long tradition of commercial art taking ideas from artsier art and bringing new ways of seeing things to the masses?

And isn't that why the masses can look at radical surrealist techniques on tv and in film without even realizing how avant garde and out in left field those ideas once were?

And wouldn't we be less as humans if those ideas were restricted to really limited use?

Especially when the first time you see those ideas they're kind of tedious and gimmicky (OK Go video) and the next time they're beautifully done and offer much more visual pleasure (Apple ad)?

But aren't we really talking about how agencies work and ideas get stolen in the ad and tv and movie industry all the time?

Cause otherwise shouldn't we be talking about OK Go blatantly ripping off Rube Goldberg for a music video and then using the fact that they ripped him off as part of their marketing of the video?

As Joshua Brustein points out, Apple Marketing has a history of much more blatant moves that are more easily viewed as straight up ripoffs.

So perhaps it's best to close with the words of OK Go manager Andy Gershon:

"The videos speak for themselves, and you can draw your own conclusions."


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) recently launched DanceLand. Send news about music tech startups and services, DIY music biz and music marketing to: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. If anything it’s more the timing than the actual work that may be the issue. My initial reaction was, of course Apple didn’t rip them off since this idea has been around for so long and executed so creatively by George Rousse.
    Even the idea of combining it into one continuous shot was already done by design students like and I’m sure some others.
    I love the definition of creativity that it is the new intersection of two older ideas. In that sense, OK GO combined music with a design/visual arts project. Apple combined traditional corporate marketing with a design/visual arts project.
    But the timing does throw in a curve ball if OK GO did approach them first. In that sense they possibly planted the seed for half of the idea that Apple used…

  2. I hear what you’re saying about the timing and I in no way am questioning that one idea led to the other.
    But creative people are throwing around ideas, altering them and being influenced by each other all the time.
    You can’t cordon off parts of your knowledge.
    Look back on anything and you see a lot of people building off each other’s ideas and often looking pretty damn similar.
    Or you could say they’re stealing from each other all the time if you only have an ownership model which doesn’t actually fit the reality of creative thought and action.
    I could go on but it’s not a matter of did one thing influence another. Of course they did. That’s how art works.

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