Kurt Cobain Ad Causes More Headaches Across The Pond

Just so Courtney doesn’t sue us, I won’t show the Doc Martens ad featuring Kurt Cobain in heaven. It was only supposed to be seen in a British music magazine. But the International Herald Tribune has more on what happened next:

The trouble began when an employee – disobeying instructions, Saatchi insisted – submitted the images to www.adcritic.com, a U.S.-based ad industry Web site. In the United States, the estates of dead celebrities are allowed to control the use of their images, unlike in Britain, where, lawyers say, no approval is needed.
A spokeswoman for Saatchi, Eleanor Conroy, said the employee who was responsible for the breach had been dismissed.
“While we believe the creative is a beautiful tribute to four legendary musicians, the individual broke both agency and client protocol in this situation by placing the ads on a U.S. advertising Web site and acting as an unauthorized spokesperson for the company,” Kate Stanners, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, said in a statement.
Sending ads to sites like AdCritic is common, particularly when an agency or ad executive is trying to “seed” it so that it can spread “virally” on the Internet. Creative types like to do this in order to generate chatter about their ads, which is helpful when awards season rolls around. Clients rarely complain, because they get free advertising.
In this case, however, Airwair International, the British company that makes Dr. Martens, was not impressed. It canceled its contract with Saatchi & Saatchi, reportedly worth £5 million, or $9.9 million, over three years.

So the agency got fired, and in turn, fired whoever uploaded the ad to AdCritic.

It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with all the laws here in our global village, isn’t it? Is the threat of getting fired going to stop people from sending work to AdCritic, or posting it on the ‘Net?
Now that the Web is, uh, worldwide, all sorts of spec and real ads are beeing seen ’round the world in mere seconds. It is free publicity for a client and self-promotion for the creatives, after all. And that’s how you get noticed–and get fame, a better job, more money, and ego-boosting articles in Creativity magazine.
[UPDATE] Oh, and as of Monday June 4, AdCritic still has the Kurt Cobain ad, along with the rest of the campaign, on its site.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Perhaps if more stuff like this happens, more agencies will think twice about doing a bunch of fake ads.

  2. Yikes–
    Okay, if they actually did run, does that still make them “fake”? From the article:

    David Suddens, chief executive of Airwair, said Saatchi first approached his company’s marketing department in February with sketches outlining the idea for the ads.
    “We said firmly, ‘no way,’ ” he said.
    Suddens said Saatchi wanted to give the idea another try, developing the sketches into proposed ads, and showed them to Airwair in April. Agency executives said they wanted to have the images published at least once so that they could be submitted for awards, he added. An Airwair executive finally agreed to allow the ads to be used in Britain only, and only in Fact magazine, Suddens said.

  3. “Agency executives said they wanted to have the images published at least once so that they could be submitted for awards, he added.”
    Maybe not “fake”, but still very, very scammy. I’m also curious to know if Airwair paid to run them, since they explicitly said they were running for award entry. I highly doubt it, in which case, I’d say fake fake fake.
    Personally, I’m glad they lost the business over it. It’s horseshit, and degrades the real, deserving work agencies actually sell and run.
    I also hate “agency cuts” of spots and the bullshit “slice off all the logos” reprints.
    But that’s me.

  4. Why are we still doing anything to win an award?

  5. i agree. this is a terrible time to be trying to win awards that personify the past. for example, the only place these print ads made any impact was online. there’s no category for that is there? how ironic is that.

  6. Why are we still doing anything to win awards? Because that’s the only way to move up in this business.

  7. i would disagree chidog. the people you’d want to work for (the ones that have won all the awards) are the same people who couldn’t give a toss about awards. because they know how meaningless they really are. it’s an illusion that they open the right doors.

  8. If an award does help one move up today, then I would seriously question the leadership abilities and point-of-view of the creative director making that decision (particularly so if the award was granted for spec work).
    One should move up in the agency if and when one consistently works hard, works smart, gets along with people and genuinely cares about pleasing the clients’ customers (and has the track record to prove it).
    The only “award” that matters is at the cash register. Everything else is a big circle jerk.

  9. While your sentiment is not wrong, you’re sadly wrong.
    Put it this way: when good agencies stop entering the shows, awards truly won’t matter.
    It’s hard to argue a lot of the agencies consistently in the shows don’t do great work that makes money. As long as the great work is for their clients, and their clients paid to run the ad.

  10. when good agencies stop entering the shows, awards truly won’t matter
    Exactly. So if you work at a good shop say, “enough of this shit already.” Stop caring about awards, stop talking about them and daydreaming about what they might do for you someday, stop paying to enter the shows, stop buying the award books, etc.
    As we go about actively reinventing our industry, it seems the ideal time to also get over ourselves.

  11. Well….here’s the rub about awards. The only people who can truly claim that they’re “over” winning them are the ones who’ve already won them. ALOT of them. Some people who’s shelves bow at the middle honestly don’t care. Some always care.
    And those Goodbys and Boguskys and Clows don’t want to be hypocritical, so, they enter the shows becuase that’s how JUNIOR talent is recognized. That’s how juniors get ahead. After all–that’s how THEY got kickstarted into the stratosphere.
    And that’s how they recruit fresh juniors.
    Who wouldn’t want to go to the agency making creatives rich and famous?

  12. Carl LaFong says:

    There is much truth to what you say, Dean.
    However, much of the work entered by the agencies in the creative stratosphere is not the product of their “junior talents.” Look through the index of any CA or One Show annual and you’ll see the same names year after year.
    So the notion that the Goodbys and the Clows et al only enter award shows to shine the spotlight on their newest hires doesn’t hold water.

  13. so if any body is reading this what do you think fact or staged courtney herself probably staged it for pablicity cause her mucic suxxxxx and she knew kurt had money so whos with me courtney you should get the chair for killing kurt and all the your lose ends all the evidence pints to you r-tard