Bonobos masculinity spot faces copycat claims from industry insiders

Some have called a recent Bonobos spot in question of too closely resembling an IWD spot BBDO created in March. / Bonobos, ThinkTank via YouTube

The release of a Bonobos spot that launched has members of the ad industry questioning its resemblance to an ad BBDO had created for this year's International Womens Day (March 8).

The BBDO-made spot, called 'It's Time To Redefine' and starring comedian and writer Akilah Hughes, displays the definition of ‘woman,’: which included terms such as ‘paramour,’ ‘mistress,’ and ‘housekeeper.' She takes the powers that be to task, asking for them to ‘scrub each definition with a fine-toothed comb,' and then gives a few choice definitions of her own.

The Bonobos spot, called '#EvolveTheDefinition' and scheduled to launch on broadcast during tonight’s ESPN Espy awards, features a group of men all reacting to a web-sourced definition of the word ‘masculine’: defined as ‘having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.' They each read off synonyms of the word, which included macho, muscular, manly, and red-blooded, in shock, awe, before countering the outdated definition of the word and giving their own interpretation of what it meant to be a man.

The Bonobos spot, which has been promoted on various social platforms, is part of a larger campaign the company launched to redefine the terminology, assembling upwards of 170 cis and transgender men and its larger fanbase to provide their thoughts.

Spots that closely resemble each other are nothing new in the ad industry, but the timing, and similarities of subject matter (women’s rights and masculinity) and treatment have given some industry creatives concern. The spot, considered by The Drum as an ‘Ad We Like’, was considered by some to have a solid, focused message, but others felt the execution felt derivative of the previous work.

Gary J. Nix, a cultural strategist and strategic advisor for multicultural communications firm Bold Culture provided his thoughts, asking: “When will we — as an industry — understand how important even a little bit of due diligence is?

"If we were to talk about this from the standpoint of this not being IP theft, I would almost guarantee that at least one person in that room was no less than two degrees from the creator of the original video. Thus, even if you had the same idea, you have to make your final product different in the name of creativity. Otherwise, the perception of copycatting becomes the truth in the conversation."

He added: “This ad is essentially the inverse of the BBDO-made video — one way to protect the talent as content creator — is to not have this Bonobos video as the final product."

Another creative, who asked not to be named, noted an added wrinkle to the alleged copycat ad, as Ms. Hughes has publicly called out publishers and creators in the past for coming up with content that has allegedly violated fair use legislation.

The Drum has reached out to BBDO, who declined to comment on the matter, and has requested comment from Bonobos and its partner agency, the CAA-owned Observatory.

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