Spec work going around the web as real ads - is there any way to stop that? Should we even try?

Remember that Toyota Prius campaign that Well, at least he drives a prius, right? in "spoof or homage" because it looked like a fake ad campaign to us. I said then "Who spent all this energy on doing a fake campaign I wonder"... But wonder no more - David Krulik did them and proudly displays them on his portfolio site. Krulik actually works at Ogilvy New York, where they don’t have the Prius account.

Johan Jansson at Stimulansbloggen emailed David Krulik to ask him about these ads, he got this reply.

Hi Johan,
The ads are 100% fake.
Toyota did not, nor in my estimation, would ever order these kinds of ads.
I created them for fun. And being an Art Director in advertising, they were meant only as self promotion. How this thing blew up as big as it has continues to baffles me. Hope this helps. And good luck with your blog!

Now, lets see how did it "blow up the way it did" shall we? With sites like Stillad, amazingfiltered and coloribus showing it off as a real campaign, it is little wonder that people thought it might be. Pixelpasta even shows off the National Aquarium evolution exhibit found here "evolution" in David's portfolio as something created at Advertsing agency: Bed and Breakfast - even though David's resume lists only McCann and Ogilvy as his previous and current employer. Again, the source for this is probably adsoftheworld. (more people showing off that ad coloribus and their twin advertolog)

Seems they all found it at adsoftheworld which is a fine site if you want to oogle advertising all day, the thing is, I can't tell which things uploaded there are spec work and which ones are not, and it seems, neither can anyone else. Everything posted at adsoftheworld is automatically assumed to have run, even though there's forum areas for 'testing' ad ideas and showing off portfolio work. Over there it's credited to:

Advertising Agency: Bed & Breakfast, USA
Art Director / Copywriter: David Krulik
Photographer: Luke Stettner
Photographer's Assistants: Jason Oneal, Po Ewing
Wardrobe: Haley Lieberman

And that mystery agency "bed and breakfast" is credited everywhere else as well. If you google "Advertising Agency: Bed & Breakfast " you'll find more of David's portfolio work like this Crest stuff which shows up brandv.blogspot.com and again at ads of the world. I guess the mystery ad agency "bed and breakfast" is David's own brain. :) I'll refrain from speculating as to whether he submitted the work to adsoftheworld with those credits or not.

I wish there was a way to tell concept/portfolio/spec work from real work on the other large ad-oogling websites as well. There is here, we have an entire topic dedicated to spec work, but that doesn't mean we haven't had submissions marked as real when they are not, most recently that Burger King campaign from bleublancrouge, which by the way you can still see at impeksyon. Is there anything one can do about this? Should advertising websites work harder in finding the agencies behind the work (we checked blueblancrouge's website by the way and had no reason to believe that the campaign they sent wasn't running as they do outrageous stuff). Or does it not matter, until some ad campaign tarnishes the brand image of a bigwig client who gets pissed off? Do they even get pissed off - remember the volkswagen suicide bomber ad that VW promised to sue the ad creators for but then they settled on some kind of apology instead? Should creatives consider marking work as "spec" just to protect themselves in case of an actual lawsuit? "Ghost ads" are fun - so much fun in fact there was an ambitious magazine launched with them only, like a Lürzers but for spec work - and we all want to see them, but just like when scam ads win in Cannes, some people get a little peeved when concept ads are 'competing' against real ads for our ad-drooling attention.

*exhale* Well, that was a bit of a rant wasn't it? What do you think?

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sakibafridi's picture

Doesn't the One Show even have a category for 'unreleased work'?

If advertising is what one does for work and loves it, then go ahead and celebrate it. Make ads! Fake or not, who cares. Whether it ran or not, WHO CARES!

I'm so very sick and tired of hearing disgruntled ad-people seeing an ad that's got a good insight and a good idea and shot well...the first question they ask is "DId that ever run?" or "Is that even real?".

Unfortunately these bitter people who don't have the courage or inclination to just do it for the love of it will always exist. I just hope those who do more and talk less overcome.

If anything else, it raises the bar. While some may find that discomforting, others will rise to that challenge. Lets hope so. How's that for a rant?

purplesimon's picture

Yeah, I guess all the best work 'never ran' because it never had to go past a client that wanted logos bigger, etc, etc.

However, what happens when spec work is thought to be real or credited to an agency that doesn't want to have its name associated with it? I'm guessing that's where the 'Bed & Breakfast' agency creds come in. Remember the Lego ads from China or the Doc Martens ads from Saatchi & Saatchi, London?

I think it's not so much the work, it's the presumption that it's okay to use the name of the agency for which you work (or want to work) in the creds when sending it out there.

I mean, didn't most/all of us get into this job by creating fake ads?

Anonymous Adgrunt's picture

The award shows make money off the ads that are entered. If they weed out the fake ads too well, they won't have enough entries to be worth doing, so they have a vested interest in awarding ghost ads! This is bad for brands, globally, when the ads are controversial.

Andreas-Udd's picture

Of course we did, my folio consisted of one piece of spec work after the other for years. The difference between then and now is that I didn't upload them to advertising sites, or send them to award shows, Luerzers archive and similar with a list of credits hoping that nobody would notice it was pure spec.

Great ideas are great if they've been produced or not, I agree, and I love looking at great ideas. However with the ease of photoshopping these days a "great" idea can potentially damage a brand and this in turn can damage our industries ability to get a client to take a risk and do something "crazy". Those inane Lego ads you mention for example, they got people fired and rightly so. Putting the agency name where you work on something that hasn't been approved can seriously damage the agencies brand name. Even snot faced kids just out of portfolioschool who work in advertising should know better than this.

I know better than to trust work on a site that does not have a "spec work" tag, for example. Comparing work that has been approved to work that has not is like comparing steaks to a cow, which is why all those awards shows now have ghost ad categories. It's the way it should be, as spec work and approved work are not on equal footing.

Dabitch's picture

WhooHoo! Comments! I was beginning to think that I was the only person not on a beach! Keep 'em coming.

I'm torn. One the one hand, yes I like to see ideas no matter what (and of course I have a portfolio full of it but I don't put my unproduced work on the web), on the other I seriously dislike that ghost ads or spec work are mistaken for real ones. As much as I get annoyed when client HQ in the USA demand the removal of a spec campaign from argentina (or similar), I understand their need to do that. It irritates the bejesus out of me that hardworking adgrunts I know personally can not send in work that they have produced or worked on, as they've signed 500-page non-disclosure agreements with the agency, and a lot of agencies still need me wooing the heck out of them to get a hold of an ad to post here, meanwhile someone armed with photoshop can just make everything up and get standing ovations from the entire industry.

That didn't make much sense, it must be the heat.

purplesimon's picture

So I think we all agree that it's okay to produce these ads - after all, that's how you get noticed - but it's not okay to post them on the Web.

Well, the Web as we know it didn't exist when I started working, so not sure how I'd do things now. I know I wouldn't post them with agency credits, that's plain stupid IMHO.

purplesimon's picture

When I say 'all' I mean the three of us that commented.

I'm in clarification mode today. :)

purplesimon's picture

Make that the four of us. I'm in clarification mode, but I can't count.

caffeinegoddess's picture

Or if you post them on the web - mark them as such. A good idea is a good idea - spec or not. To me, the problem is when spec doesn't announce itself as such.

sakibafridi's picture

The way I see it. And I only speak for myself here...

Rule #1
Do pro-active work for existing clients that you/agency has. The exception to this rule is if you happen to get written consent from a company to do pro-active ads for them (even if they are not officially a client of yours). Knowing the Director of Marketing personally etc helps.
However for the most part, COME UP WITH PRO-ACTIVE WORK FOR YOUR OWN CLIENTS. Not Bob's Barber shop downstairs or the corner Karate School. Your own clients...or clients you have access to.

Rule #2
Get it shot and executed for cheap/free.
DO this by pulling all the favors you can pull. You and everyone involved in this process must seriously believe in the award-winning potential of this piece, otherwise it is a wasted effort.
Good relationships with photographers and retouchers help. In fact, relations in general just help.

Rule #3
After you shoot it, take it to an unsuspecting client and overwhelm him/her with your enthusiasm and creativity and your hunger to make his/her brand better. Once you have won the client over, convince client to run the ad(s).
Even if it's just once! Convince them to run it. After all, who cares if it only ran once. A good idea is a good idea. The client gets a free/cheap ad out of it, they won't mind running it wherever. At the end of the day, all those bitter people questioning the legitimacy of the ad and how often it ran aren't the ones walking up on stage to collect the award...you are!
I digress. Back to getting the ad released. You could try and get some help from your media department to get it run somewhere. The upside to this exercise is If the client is really happy and impressed with your pro-active , maybe they will ask you to do more such ideas and actually offer to pay you for it. Now you've got something. Getting your expenses covered is one thing, getting a creatively-excited client is a dream come true. When you get this, never let this opportunity to do great work go.

Rule #4
Make sure it runs LEGITIMATELY.

Rule #5
Enter, enter and enter. Make sure you/your agency has some money put aside for award entries. The bills can pile up very easily. Award shows make a ton of money. Use the categories wisely.

Rule #6
Get some buzz going about the piece. This is where releasing the work onine on adsoftheworld.com and adland.tv really helps.

Rule #7
If you don't pick up any awards, don't sweat it. Know that there was better work out there and you just have to up your game further, do better and more of it. So get off your ass and get back to thinking of better ideas!
Next year is a whole other story.

bittertruth's picture

However the real question to be posed is why on earth do creative souls resort to such deceptive tactics? We know the symptoms. Let’s get down to the cause of this disease.

It’s easy to dismiss these tricks as shameless attempts at glory, but let’s begin by asking is there any shame in left in advertising?

Honour? Dignity? Integrity?

As a profession we are just above used-car salesmen in terms of respect.

The brilliant American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero.”

Account executives and media planners can get away with ‘”I handled megabuck brands”.

Art directors and copywriters everywhere are judged on their portfolios, awards won, and these days, the number of times they have employed the services of cricketers and Bollywood stars to endorse their clients’ brands.

On the other hand, all through the year they are asked to churn out drivel that would insult the intelligence of a two-year old.

They are commanded by their leaders to come up with cookie-cutter ideas that are in line with a client’s global brand guidelines.

The very same leaders who encourage the creation of ghost ads (and will shout from the rooftops if one of them wins the Norwegian Toe Nail Clippers Association Award for best ad for a pedicurist).

I can hear them say, “Hey, it’s December! Time for those tantrum-throwing creative types to let off some steam. Let’s get them to do some ghost ads. Keep the troops’ morale up.”

“There are real clients out there who need real solutions” is a platitude.

If a brilliant idea was to be handed on a platter to the client servicing team, would they be able to sell it?

Good ideas are scary and ads these days hardly leave me wetting my pants.

This brings us to the cause of the disease: a system that has failed to produce account executives who can sell good ideas.

Rather than just slam scam ads, we should focus on creating an environment that encourages account executives to sell ideas, as opposed to merely going back and forth like glorified peons.

JohanW's picture

All of you bring good points. I don't think what sakibafridi describes can be compared to a concept portfolio piece, and if it has run it's not really a scam ad either as long as the client has signed off on it. I've done many campaigns that way that became successful. However, it is backwards,since one should work off a brief with a strategic objective, not come up with ideas and slap logos on them.

What Bittertruth points out is important, why am I doing the work backwards? Because frankly, someone else in those agencies is not doing theirs. We would get briefs that we spent time on and it turned out that the whole strategy was exactly what the client did not want, wasting our and their time. It was frightening how often a creative teams gut instinct on what would be right for the brand and client was correct, and the account executives swore that the client would never do that. Thankfully, I am no longer at that agency, the moral of the story is that a good account exec that is creative and understands the client is worth his or her weight in gold, and they are such rare birds.
I'm now at a company where I work off briefs that are correct at the start, and it really shows in the work. Everything we produce here is much better already on the napkin level. We may not score big in Cannes but the level here is much higher in general on all work and I'm proud of it.

Bittertruth has it right when he described that Art directors and Copywriters only have their book to show for their career. But decent teams do more than just write words and make things pretty, we are the account execs and planners rolled into one. I've had this sneaking feeling that if we made teams of four (ad, cw, planner and account) rather than two arty types locked away in a room alone, we'd all work a little harder in getting the great ideas sold to the client.

sakibafridi's picture

I completely agree. I thought we were going under the assumption that real work on real briefs and making them the best they possibly can be comes first. That's always the best kind of good work, the real one. Perhaps we are all so focussed on doing great work that good work suffers in the middle.

backwrite's picture

That didn't make much sense, it must be the heat.

Actually, Ask, it made perfect sense. Produced ads and spec ads are simply not on the same playing field. Spec is extremely useful for the reasons mentioned above--it got most of us our first jobs and can help realign a flat portfolio to better reflect the creative's actual ability. But full disclosure is in fact important.

Y'all have made some great points. The one thing I'd take issue with is sakibafridi's point:

After you shoot it, take it to an unsuspecting client and overwhelm him/her with your enthusiasm and creativity and your hunger to make his/her brand better. Once you have won the client over, convince client to run the ad(s). Even if it's just once!

I just can't see any client's brand police going for this. What if the ad is edgier than normal for the client, it runs once, then some bozo records it and splashes it all over YouTube? That's the sort of thing that keeps brand managers up at night.

sakibafridi's picture

True. It would have to reflect the personality of the brand. A good example is the work Saatchi NY did for Tide with Wrigley fielf and the empire state building. It was most probably proactive in nature but still refected the brand. As agencies and creatives, we shoudl still be responsible and do responsible thinking for our clients and not pull any suicide bomber stunts for volkswagen or sperm droppings for puma. So in short, I agree the ideas should reflect the brand and not be out there for the sake of being out there.

Neo's picture

Saatchi NYC has an entire floor of people creating fake ads. I'm only bitter because they didn't hire me to do that.

wildpitch.tv's picture

Perhaps this comment is a bit self-serving, but the genie is out of the bottle folks. I founded WildPitch.TV so that anyone can express their passion, insight and creativity about a brand in a video format and upload it to our website. Now, remind me again why a brand manager won't like this? Because people express their own views of the brand rather than regurgitate what the brand wants them to believe? That game is so over. Brands must engage with their audience in authentic ways including letting them participate and really listening. It's a new era in advertising.

The same goes for creative folks - get your spec ads out there. Your talent is not something to hoard and show selectively. The new genius of creativity will be promiscuous.

Dabitch's picture

Sure, lets do that, I agree - but I also like the expression "comparing steaks to a cow" seen above. Get spec work out there but label it as SPEC. :) THis ad Immersive cocoon just blew me away. Nicely done.