McDonald's has apologized to freelance writer David Sikorski and photographer Kristina Bakrevski after they accused the fast-food chain of copying their cheeky "engagement" photos in which the object of Sikorski's affection is a burrito.
Sikorski's pictorial series went viral a month ago following initial coverage in BuzzFeed. It shows him kicking back in the grass, and seated on a park bench, casting longing and come-hither looks at a burrito wrapped in silver foil.
The McDonald's ads rolled out earlier this month, promoting the chain's $2.50 double cheeseburger combo deal. In a series of tweets, various folks strike poses similar to those in some of Sikorski's photos. In one tweet, a man lies back in the grass. In another, a woman sits on a park bench. In all the shots, they gaze rapturously at McD's combos placed nearby. One of the tweets refers to "a double cheesy engagement."
All photos of Sikorski by Kristina Bakrevski
"I came up with the concept as a satirical take on the engagement photos that flood my everyday social media channels," Sikorski tells Adweek. "The photos are in fact licensed. We gave permission to BuzzFeed for the first use of the photos within an article highlighting the project."
The photos and story quickly took off, showing up in sites including People, Time and the Huffington Post, among others. "The photos used by McDonald's are not a spinoff or a take on it," Sikorski says, "but an exact duplicate from the wardrobe, the positions and the concept. Neither myself, my photographer or the licensing company were approached for permission."
The duo learned of the McDonald's campaign when one of Bakrevski's friends saw a sponsored tweet in her timeline and pointed out the similarities. "My reaction was shock, disbelief," Bakrevski says. "I was mad, even though a lot of friends told me the imitation was a form of flattery."
The pair began calling and tweeting at McDonald's today, but by the time Adweek contacted then, they had yet to received a reply.
They might hear something soon, however. Tonight, in response to questions from Adweek, a McDonald's rep issued this statement: "This shouldn't have happened, and, with our agency partner, we're working to find out how it did. We're reaching out to David Sikorski and Kristina Bakrevski. We apologize to them, their fans and ours."
As of 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, the images were still up in the McDonald's Twitter feed. The chain did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Sikorski says he would like the marketer to acknowledge that its campaign is based on the work that he and Bakrevski created. And if McDonald's wants to pay them for the concept, "that'd be great," he says.
This marks the second time this week that the issue of plagiarism has reared its head in adland. Some say a popular Edmonton Transit System video featuring a "cool bus" is too close in tone and execution to an award-winning 2012 spot from Danish bus manufacturer Midttrafik.