This story has been updated to reflect new information about the role of American Eagle Outfitters (see below). Check back for ongoing updates (last update, 3/27, 1 pm PCT).
Advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day has created marketing campaigns for the Grammy Awards for years. So the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), who organises the awards, may have been more than surprised if they walked through Times Square recently and saw the agency’s latest campaign Artists vs Artists, with the slogan Piracy is Progress.
Though the campaign demands artists “pick a side“, giving them the limited options of “piracy is stealing” and “piracy is sharing”(how about the option “piracy is exploitation”?), it’s clear what Chiat Day wants you to choose, judging by its slogan Piracy is Progress with the hashtag #artistsforpiracy.
If NARAS had taken a look at Chiat Day’s website before recruiting its services it would have discovered that the ad agency is, indeed, a campaigner for piracy. It features a few “rebellious” slogans that appear to have been written by a 13-year-old: “It’s better to be pirates than the navy,” as well as the message “Pirates don’t live by the rules and conventions, they break them.”
(yes, this is taken from the TBWA\Chiat\Day website)
To bring the message home Chiat Day managed to get the Brooklyn band Ghost Beach on board. In return the band gets promoted via these big Times Square billboards.
I can’t blame the band – no doubt it couldn’t have afforded that kind of promotion on its own. Just like the people behind The Pirate Bay used the desperation of unknown bands, promising “exposure” on its “Promo Bay” in order to claim it as proof they gave a crap about artists while simultaneously exploiting them, Chiat Day and whoever is sponsoring it has dangled the “exposure” carrot in order to further their own agenda.
What is disingenuous is that it’s promoted as a campaign that pins artists against artists when, in reality, it’s artists vs. the art of exploitation. It’s no secret that ad-funded piracy is big business for the anonymous people behind sites such as filestube.com and torrentz.eu, ad networks such as Adsense – and, indeed, ad agencies such as Chiat Day.
Clearly the ad agency is trying to whip up controversy and animosity where there is none. No artist would force Ghost Beach to distribute their music in a way they didn’t want to – and I’m sure the band wouldn’t dictate to other artists what they should do with theirs.
So who is paying for those Times Square billboards?
Believe me, they don’t come cheap. The Little Black Book advertising insider website credited American Eagle Outfitters and its marketing coordinator, Brad Spang, in connection with the campaign, but when Chris Castle of MusicTechnologyPolicy contacted Spang, he said that neither he nor the company are affiliated with Chiat Day’s pro-piracy campaign.
Updated, 3/27, 1 pm PCT: The American Eagle Outfitters name has now been removed from the Little Black Book page in connection with the piracy campaign. American Eagle told the New York Times they had given the ad space above their store in Times Square to Ghost Beach, who subsequently triggered the campaign. Earlier, they told music industry attorney Chris Castle they had no idea who reserved the billboard.
Spang said “someone” had simply purchased the ad space above the American Eagle store in Times Square, but that he didn’t know who it was. So it appears whoever spent all that money prefers to keep a very low profile.
Perhaps they’re embarrassed. Perhaps they realise that the slogan Piracy is Progress makes no sense. That is unless they believe that promoting corporate feudalism, where artists have to go around hat in hand – or communism, where the state decides how much, or even if, artists should get paid when their music is used – is progress.