NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The "borrowing" of creative ideas has long been a top concern in Adland, but these disputes are set to get more contentious, thanks to the growing popularity among agency folk of data-tracking tools that measure not only who visits a website but also how long they stay.
Case in point: Grasshopper, a provider of phone services to small businesses, claims that a new ad by Ogilvy & Mather for longtime client American Express uses the same thinking and creative behind a video Grasshopper made called "Entrepreneurs Can Change the World." Grasshopper says it was shocked to discover the similarities the AmEx ad bears to its video, which it released in May in the hope of sparking a turnaround of the sagging economy.
At the crux of the company's claims, which are outlined in a lengthy blog post by Grasshopper's co-founder and chief technology officer, David Hauser, are data from Google Analytics that document visits by Ogilvy offices to Grasshopper's website and the website of the video's producer and writer, Sonja Jacob.
"Yes, 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,' but I think it might have been more authentic if Ogilvy & Mather had just come up with their own campaign," Mr. Hauser writes. "Moreover, it would've been cool if AmEx had considered a partnership with us to help entrepreneurs, or raise awareness on an even greater level of how entrepreneurs really can change the world, without using someone else's original ideas. (AmEx execs, if you're reading this, give me a call.)"
The Ogilvy ad in question, which began airing last month, touts American Express' revamped Open Forum website, an online resource and social-networking website for small-business owners.
The music and messaging that cheer on entrepreneurship are similar, but to be sure, the videos are not carbon copies. For one, the 60-second American Express commercial features real small-business owners behind ventures such as a cycle shop and a bakery, while the two-minute-long Grasshopper video is series of words and phrases containing no people at all.
In an interview with Ad Age, Mr. Hauser wouldn't go so far as to accuse Ogilvy of stealing his company's creative ideas but said the information he culled on Ogilvy's visits to the site is "interesting data that raises a lot of questions." He added that he was disappointed by the thought of "Ogilvy and American Express -- very large companies -- using our message for their direct commercial gain and not an authentic message about entrepreneurs."
"Each person can take from that what they will and how similar it is or isn't, but I'd be interested to hear what Ogilvy and American Express has to say," Mr. Hauser said.
A spokeswoman for Ogilvy told Advertising Age: "Our ad was approved and in production in March." She added that the American Express spot was created by Ogilvy's New York office, and the data Mr. Hauser refers to show nobody from that office ever visited Grasshopper's site, she said. "Any visits to his website from Ogilvy came from offices outside the U.S. that were not involved in creating this ad."
American Express did not respond to requests for comment.
It's a subjective dispute that likely won't see any real resolution, but Grasshopper's claims point to a growing trend in the ad world: Creative types increasingly use online tools to track metrics such as the duration of time agencies and marketers spend on their websites. What's more, they seem to be taking a special liking to Google Analytics. The same tool was at the center of a recent ad controversy between West Coast agency Ignited and retailer Zappos.
Unbeknownst to the marketer, Ignited tracked how much time Zappos spent reviewing its response to a request for proposals in a search for a new creative ad agency. Using Google Analytics, the agency calculated that Zappos viewed only five pages of its 25-page submission, with an average page-view time of 14 seconds. "If Zappos wasn't prepared to evaluate 80-plus responses they shouldn't have opened the review beyond the initial 16 agencies they contacted," Mike Wolfsohn, VP-executive creative director, wrote in a post on Ignited's blog.