The result was an array or applications for simple and clean yet
striking brand imagery. The magazine featured mockups of billboard
advertising, campaign posters, a logo, T-shirts and even a bike
lock, playing on the candidate's active persona.
After the issue was published -- though the agency had no
intention of actually working with the Johnson camp -- Spark
tweeted about the brand concept to the campaign and sent a link to
Spike via the campaign site. Spark received no response or
indication from the campaign that they were aware of Spark's brand
Flash forward two months and it recently became quite apparent
that someone in the campaign had seen the distinctively bright aqua
and candy-apple red color scheme and design concepts.
"Last Monday one of our designers saw an ad from Gary Johnson
that was eerily similar to ours," said Elliott Bedinghaus, VP of
creative at Spark.
It isn't clear whether the Johnson camp is using the
Spark-inspired imagery in online display ads or other advertising;
however, Spark's ideas are splashed across the JohnsonWeld.com home
page and other places online to promote the campaign's August 15
Money Bomb fundraiser intended to help Mr. Johnson get into the
general election debates.
The fact that the campaign did not acknowledge the origin of
Spark's concepts was one thing. What really got under Spark Art
Director Alex Coyle's skin was the poor execution of the agency's
ideas. Rather than using the color scheme and other design elements
in a cohesive manner across the site, social media pages and other
campaign collateral, the Johnson camp so far has employed them
sparingly, resulting in a disjointed look.
"Hey, if you're going to rip us off, at least do it right," said
In particular, the agency takes umbrage with the use of the font
composition, which was specifically designed to isolate the "on" of
"Johnson" to highlight how the candidate stands on key issues, as
in "on the open internet," and "on healthcare."
"That 'on' always speaks to a tagline," he said. "Particularly,
we were upset that it wasn't being executed in the correct
After seeing how the Johnson campaign implemented its brand
system, Spark wanted it to do a better job. So the agency published
editable files and a downloadable font on HelloGaryJohnson.com, a
website that also features a video with a notably diplomatic
message to the Johnson campaign:
"When you swiped our campaign we were happy to see that you
agreed with us," states the narrator. "In the spirit of creating a
great brand, we thought it only fair to provide you with the tools
to execute it on a deeper level."
Spark execs spoke with the Johnson campaign on August 6.
According to Spark, the campaign representative apologized and said
he and other staff were not aware the work had been stolen. Because
Spark is not interested in pursuing political clients, the
conversation didn't go far. Mr. Bedinghaus said he does not blame
the candidate, who likely was unaware of the situation. "The
reality is that he had no idea what was going on," he said.
At this stage, though frustrated with the way it all transpired,
Spark asks that if the campaign wants to use its brand system, it
should do it according to the agency's well-crafted design
guidelines using the tools it eventually provided to the
"The issue of intellectual property and stolen creative work is
a very big, real and nuanced issue in our industry," said Mr.
Bedinghaus. "Not everyone is going to agree with how we handled
this response. But if we can create another opportunity to talk
about the issue, then we think that's worthwhile."