by: Josh Hawkins

Tom O'Keefe, an art director based in Boston, is suing American Express and Ogilvy & Mather for allegedly using his trademarked concept for the "My Life My Card" campaign.

According to the press release issued by O'Keefe's attorneys, the art director was pitching O&M for work on the campaign. For years, O'Keefe had used a portfolio, website and other collateral that involves a concept that is similar to the AmEx campaign. He didn't get the gig, but a year later "My Life, MY Card" had become the ubiquitous tag line for the advertising campaign.

You be the judge. Similar concepts, but does this constitute trademark violation? A court will ultimately decide if the case has merit. But anyone who has done work in advertising knows that this happens all the time. High-powered agencies cast a wide net for talent, entertain numerous pitches, and all too often creative concepts that originate from outside the agency become part of the mix. And in some cases, end up as part of the campaign.

The problem for American Express is that CGM is an echo chamber and what would otherwise be less than a blip in the media landscape all of a sudden gets legs - blogs pick it up, readers "digg" it, discussions take off in forums. This layer of CGM now intercepts customers searching for "My Life, My Card" in search engines. American Express continues to invest heavily in the campaign and they drive a significant amount of search traffic. For example, a consumer who sees the hilarious Wes Anderson ad on TV may type "my life my card" in Google to find the YouTube clip and share it with friends. In the top ten search results, there are a number of articles about lawsuits filed against American Express for similar claims in the past. Now the brand experience becomes more than the Wes Anderson ad - now the dialog about the brand, the campaign, and the card involves the lawsuit.

My guess is that O'Keefe's case will have a similar effect. From a PR perspective, David and Goliath narratives tend to get pick up. It could turn out that the lawsuit becomes the least of AmEx's problems.











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