Italian Coffee Rivals Square Off Over George Clooney Spot

Lavazza Accuses Nespresso of Ripping Off Its Long-running Ad Theme

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LONDON ( -- A TV spot starring actor George Clooney is at the center of an Italian coffee advertising feud, in which Lavazza is accusing Nestle Group's Nespresso of stealing Lavazza's long-running campaign theme.

Nespresso's latest European spot by McCann Erickson's Paris office features the Hollywood star visiting heaven, where he encounters God in the shape of fellow actor John Malkovich. Rival coffee marketer Lavazza has complained that the spot rips off its long-running Italian "Paradise" campaign, which has also featured white clouds and angels and St. Peter as delicious coffee is sipped in heaven.

"It's hard to resist the conclusion that it was copied from ours," Lavazza CEO Gaetano Mele said in a statement. "The whole thing is very similar." The company has referred the matter to the Italian advertising regulatory body, the Istituto dell'Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria, and is waiting to hear how its complaint will be judged. Armando Testa, Italy's biggest ad agency, came up with the Lavazza campaign, which has seen 60 executions over the past 15 years.

But Nespresso retaliated in its own statement today: "We absolutely do not share Lavazza's opinions concerning the new Nespresso commercial. The commercial is based on an original concept. ... Nespresso used the after-life notion in a metaphorical sense. The after-life is a cultural reference, not particularly linked to just one brand, which has been used as a setting for countless books, songs, films and advertisements."

Mr. Mele was "surprised" by Nespresso's response. He said, "Of course, heaven does not 'belong' to anybody. But the idea of using heaven in advertising -- specifically, this version of heaven out of all the thousands of possible interpretations, and specifically to advertise coffee -- well, that should belong to whoever came up with the idea first. Otherwise, our job would be very easy. It would just be a case of copying the best ideas from other people."

McCann's Nespresso spot shows Mr. Clooney walking out of a Nespresso store carrying a coffee machine, only to be hit by a falling piano. He instantly appears at the pearly gates and protests, "It's not my time." Mr. Malkovich, in the role of God, eyes up the coffee machine and suggests that they can come to an arrangement. God, it seems, will settle for nothing less than the coffee maker. The ads carry the tagline "What Else?"

Guillaume Le Cunff, international marketing and strategy director of Nespresso, said, "Clooney and Malkovich are not only excellent actors, they also have the invaluable ability to give their audience moments of relaxation and pleasure. And that is essential at Nespresso."

Mr. Clooney is a regular in European ad campaigns, appearing in spots for alcohol, cars, watch and fashion brands over the last five years.

As well as fronting the Nespresso campaign since 2006, which includes some commercials of dubious charm, Mr. Clooney, who owns a villa on Lake Como, has been the face of Martini since 2004 and has also starred in a spot for Italian fashion brand Emidio Tucci. He also fronted a Fiat campaign in 2004 and has been an ambassador for Omega watches since March 2007.

Mr. Clooney lends his name to charitable as well as corporate causes. He is a co-founder with Matt Damon and Brad Pitt of humanitarian charity Not On Our Watch, and has contributed to the United Nations Food Program, Darfur relief, and even Help a London Child.

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