An Artist Says His Work Was Copied on a Stock Service, Then Used to Win a Cannes Lion

Even a juror now questions the bronze winner for Hyundai

From left to right: an image created by Rik Oostenbroek, a version created by another artist on Shutterstock, and a campaign for Hyundai that utilized the stock imagery.

Is it really Cannes Lions if there isn’t a controversy around at least one winner?

Just as the annual festival’s dust seemed to be settling, a freelance Dutch illustrator named Rik Oostenbroek has accused agency MullenLowe SSP3 in Colombia of using stock imagery that copies his signature style and dropping it into a Hyundai campaign that features little more than the stock art.

The campaign in question won a bronze Lion in the Cannes Lions Print & Publishing category this year, as well as a Wood Pencil at the D&AD Awards last month.

The work features imagery that, similar to the style Oostenbroek has become known for, conveys motion through swirling, colorful shapes. He tells Adweek the style is something that “clients hire me for and people identify me with.” His art style can be found on his Instagram.

"Building a campaign from a stock collection is quite lazy. Had we been aware that this was the case, it would have altered our rating of the piece."
Cannes Lions juror, speaking on condition of anonymity

Oostenbroek said he first noticed the Hyundai work on creative platform Behance and left a comment about the similarity to his work. He claims he received a response within hours from Carlos Andrés Rodríguez, CCO of MullenLowe SSP3, who apologized and told him that the agency did not intend to steal his work. In their exchange, Rodriguez also made clear that the agency legally purchased the rights for the illustrations through Shutterstock.

Here are the three ads, alongside their original stock art source images:

(MullenLowe has not responded to Adweek’s request for comment on this work and Oostenbroek’s concerns. If we receive a response, we will update this article to include the agency’s perspective.)

Oostenbroek said he was willing to put the drama behind him until he saw that the Hyundai work was winning industry awards over the past month.

“Once they won at Cannes, something an individual like me can only dream of, I was simply shocked and mind blown,” he said. “The agency apparently is still super proud of a campaign they only put copy over. The judges don’t do any research on what the original source is in this case.”

Oostenbroek said he was surprised to see “such a respected agency” would be “super proud of a campaign built around stock images” and submit it to numerous awards shows.

“Where is the line in this case?” he said. “Why does this get rewarded by institutions who are supposed to pick up good work?”

One of the members of this year’s Print & Publishing jury, which gave the Hyundai campaign a bronze, shared Oostenbroek’s dismay after learning about the source of the images.

“Building a campaign from a stock collection is quite lazy,” the juror said, on the condition of anonymity. “Had we been aware that this was the case, it would have altered our rating of the piece. The fact that the stock image in question so closely resembles the work of an artist who is not being credited or remunerated is more concerning.”

MullenLowe sent the following response to Adweek:

“We’ve recently been made aware of some discussion around one of our campaigns.We understand the concerns that have been raised, and have always been committed to supporting the creative rights of any author. As a company, we follow strict protocol put in place by our external auditors which ensures that we do not air any campaign for which we do not own the rights.

“In regards to this particular campaign, the images were identified as the most fitting way to illustrate the important ‘don’t text and drive’ message for our client. The appropriate rights for the four images were purchased through the correct channels and we acted legally within the terms of the licence. We have been in contact with the artist claiming credit for the work on social media, with a full explanation of the creative process and the surrounding legalities.