The marketing and communications industry often find its inspiration through outreach to ‘edgy’, street or political artists. Think Barbara Kruger‘s work with Selfridges, or street artist Speto’s posters for Brahma beer. At the occasional cost of some credibility points, everybody wins: artists get funding and exposure, brands get cooler creative executions than agency ‘creative’ teams could dream up unaided.
But sometimes, ideas are appropriated for campaigns without the consent of their creators. Consent can, at first glance, seem a particularly grey area for street art, say, or activist content. After all, if you’ve gifted an idea to the commons without a clearly-stated and enforceable license in place, what right have you to complain if that idea gets spotted by an agency and used to sell, say, soft drinks. Or indeed, sports shoes?
Consider, for example, Chalkbot — a robot which writes messages in chalk on the road as it bumps along behind another vehicle. You can send Chalkbot tweets, you can text it, you can probably email it. And whatever you send, ends up on the road, writ large in chalk. Chalkbot is cool. Geek cool. As we understand it, Chalkbot was developed by DeepLocal, and, via ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, is being used by Nike as part of its brand tie-up with the LIVESTRONG campaign of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, at the Tour de France (yes this can get confusing).
We first heard about Chalkbot on Twitter today. But actually, no — we didn’t first hear of it today. We first saw the technology demonstrated a few years back, at a Dorkbot event in London. The project was called StreetWriter, and its creators were a group of highly technical activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA). Not just cool, StreetWriter was also political. Watch the video.
Chalkbot isn’t StreetWriter. Although based on IAA’s work, Chalkbot is far from political. It’s commercial. It’s also built, in part, by former IAA members. Nothing wrong with that in itself. DeepLocal present their version of its history on their website [thanks to Nathan at DeepLocal for providing us with that link in response to my earlier shoutout on Twitter].
Crucially, however, Nike and W+K’s press releases apparently make no mention of their robot’s activist ancestry.
Our problem with that? One word: Attribution — a key concern of us commons-loving content-creators. Play, mix, mash-up, create using what we’ve made, but give credit where credit’s due: show respect to those who came before, on whose ideas you build. This is simple: even leaving aside the politics, Nike should be putting some more love out. It seems the IAA shares our views on this. In the past hour or so, they’ve issued a press release which details their dissatisfaction with Nike’s appropriation of their work. Read it. Respond as you see fit.
This story is developing. We’ll keep you posted as and when Nike or its agencies make any public response.