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Beer ad falls flat with local agency

Amy David April 20, 2012 14

A local ad agency has gone public with its beef over a campaign designed by a Colorado competitor, and the tiff has gone viral.

Work Labs is crying foul over ads rolled out this month by New Belgium Brewing Co., claiming they bear a striking resemblance to a campaign the Monument Avenue firm designed for another beer brand years ago.

The online drama began when Work Labs owner Cabell Harris took to social media after someone sent him the two ads together on Facebook.

“Should we be flattered or mad?,” the company asks on its site with side-by-side images from both campaigns.

The ads in question relate to the push New Belgium is making for its new beer called “Shift.” The ads were conceived by Denver-based ad agency Cultivator.

Harris said his agency created a campaign in 1998 for its own brand of beer called “Work” with the help of the former Richmond-based Main Street Beer Co. The campaign ran until 2003.

As the picture shows, both ads tout the slogan “For a job well done.” Work Lab’s earlier ad also has a “Clock out and pop a top” slogan. One of New Belgium’s new ads carries the tagline “Clock out and crack open.”

“We saw a press release [about the new beer], and it raised concerns,” Harris said. “It seems like a coincidence of some sort. But you read comments we’re getting from people in the community, and it leaves a question mark in my mind.”

New Belgium’s campaign launched April 1. Harris said he got a call from New Belgium the day the ad comparison went public.

“I shared my concerns, and they said it was just a coincidence,” he said. “The stuff we had wasn’t secret. It would be interesting to see if their beer had come out and then Work beer had come out within several years if they would have a problem with it.”

Bryan Simpson, spokesperson for New Belgium, said nothing from the new campaign was pulled from Work Lab’s ads.

“The ‘Shift’ campaign is an extension of a long-standing campaign used throughout our portfolio for a long time,” Simpson said.

After the ad comparison hit blogs, Simpson said New Belgium powwowed with Cultivator on how to respond.

“We spoke to the agency, and they said the design was done independently on their own, with our direction,” he said. “None of us had ever heard of Work Labs up until about two or three weeks ago.”

He noted that the second ad in the picture is not associated with the “Shift” campaign.

Cultivator did not respond by press time.

Harris said he isn’t going to take legal action — he just wants the public to know that Work Labs was the first to dish out the design.

“We put so much time, energy and money into it,” he said. “That’s why I have to let people know, hey, I have a brand out here that has these concepts we’ve had for several years. I want them to be aware of the work we’ve done and make their own conclusions.”

Work beer was sold in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida until Main Street Beer went out of business in 2004.

Work Labs retained the rights to the Work brand and has used it for everything from beer to flags to its own line of apparel and pencils.

Harris said Work Labs has been shopping around for a new brewery to market the brand.

Since the spat went public, it has been picked up online by the Denver Egotist, Media Bistro, BeerPulse.com and Reddit.

Work Labs started out of Los Angeles in 1993 and moved to Richmond, Harris’s hometown, two years later.

Harris said Work Labs has about five clients it’s working with now, including Miller Lite, Macy’s and Exxon. The agency employs a staff of five.

Read more: So a gecko and a duck walk into a bar …

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  1. Robert April 20, 2012 at 7:12 am - Reply

    Who cares? Work beer has been gone for a decade. Time to put your ego aside and move on.

  2. Ferrous April 20, 2012 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Robert, put your insecurities aside and have beer.

  3. Blair Keeley April 20, 2012 at 8:09 am - Reply



    What a weak, narcissistic attempt at attention-grabbing by someone many would say used to be a bit of a local advertising icon.

    Its a non-issue and, in my opinion, embarrassing to Richmond’s ad community that is has even risen to the level it has.

    As Robert just said, lose the ego, Cabell.

    Guess I’ll have a couple cans of Shift to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

    Sorry, New Belgium. Richmond VA’s marketing community wishes you good luck with your launch.

  4. eric Hews April 20, 2012 at 8:19 am - Reply

    “For a job well done” is a worn-out cliché and just plain ol’ WEAK copywriting. Why any creative agency would WANT to claim (and crow about!) that is beyond me.

  5. Ethan April 20, 2012 at 9:05 am - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. This beer hasn’t been around in so long, it renders the whole beef moot.

  6. Ike April 20, 2012 at 9:41 am - Reply

    really?? work, beer, timeclocks, cliches… maybe Laverne and Shirley and all the other works at Shotz brewery should sue you both. give it a rest.

  7. moe joe April 20, 2012 at 11:58 am - Reply

    This isn’t about an ad or a time clock or a tagline. It’s about one so-called creative creative agency stealing an entire brand identity from another agency. (The above image is just part of it.) Doesn’t matter if the idea was ten years old or fifty years old. It’s obvious theft and Cultivator should be ashamed.
    (Oh, and Blair, how in the world does someone who claims to work in “marketing” even register embarrassment?)

  8. R Sweeney April 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Sorry boys, your brilliant “creation” was done as a joke by the comics at SCTV DECADES before you did it.

  9. Raquel April 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Plagiarism is plagiarism. Why would the United States of America have taken substantial time and brian power to enact copyright law? Creative is deamed intellectual property because thoughts, ideas, and design are unique and deserve the right to be protected. WORK is protecting their creative the same way any artist would. You can’t just slap your name on a painting in the MoMA and suddenly take credit for it. The same holds true for advertising creative. Otherwise the phrase “All Rights Reserved” means nothing for any of us.

  10. TPSMinny April 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    This isn’t about egos people. This concept was shown, in a presentation, to the brewery when Cabell was seeking brewers to partner with on the brand. Now, it was blatantly ripped off. Down to too many details — not a coincidence. Ask yourself this—if a musical artist had a song, that was written developed and produced and HAD BEEN HEARD by an audience, even if a small one, and was then totally ripped off and used by another musician and touted as his own, even if 20 years later, would you not agree that was wrong? Haven’t there been legal cases of such an example taken to court and won? Yes, there have. If a few chapters of a book were presented to an editor in NY who then showed them to some other writer who plagiarized them– wouldn’t that be wrong? This is the same thing. This “creative product” just isn’t a song or a book. But it was concepted, developed, executed, consumed by an audience — presented to a business for a partnership opportunity– and then stolen.

  11. Common Sense April 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    What, like “for a job well done” was original to being with? Really?

  12. david waraksa April 20, 2012 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    As an Art Director who worked alongside Cabell, Haley, Paul, Anne-Marie, Mike and Steve to create many of the Work Beer pieces being discussed (the first poster is in fact a full-page newspaper ad I worked on for the launch) — I find the whole thing pretty sad.

    I admit I may be too close to the situation. And I appreciate the idea of inspiration — we combed things like old Popular Mechanics magazines and vintage hardware packaging all the time. But never other beer ad campaigns.

  13. Tom Siebert April 22, 2012 at 9:46 am - Reply

    OK, so some commentators here clearly don’t like Cabell Harris. Maybe all the things they say about him are right.


    We are talking plagiarism here, and there’s no excuse for it. Ever. He’s got every right to call them on it.

    The comments from the brewery only double their disgrace. In this incidence, let’s not confuse who’s at fault here.

    The original campaign was a savvy mix of blue-collar cliche and clever permutations upon those cliches. It was clearly effective enough for somebody to rip off shamelessly. Don’t let your personal animosity drive you to a perverse defense of an indefensible lack of business ethics.

    And if you’re going to call somebody out, “Robert,” and “Ethan” and “Ike,” at least have the guts to post your full names. Otherwise you just look like anonymously sniping cowards who may well all be the same person. From New Belgium. Or Cultivator.

  14. El Scorch April 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Ah, look at all The Cultivator hacks coming in here and trying to save face while at the same time outing themselves as the 5th-rate hacks they are.

    Keep talking.

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