Beg, Borrow, or Steal? Learn From a Blog Copycat Scandal

When a travel blogger learned that a human resources company had taken his concept and used it for a marketing campaign, he told the public. The result? The company had a big backlash on its hands. Don't find yourself in the same position.

Just because you see an idea online that you like doesn’t mean you should create a marketing campaign around it.

That’s a lesson that the world’s largest human resources company, Adecco, learned the hard way last week, when a blogger’s complaints about bad-faith copying by the firm led to a controversy that went viral—and, eventually, a tough apology.

The issue: Turner Barr, the popular travel blogger behind “Around the World in 80 Jobs,” discovered recently that his blog’s concept had been co-opted by Adecco for a marketing campaign intended to help millennials find jobs. The company went so far as to create a video (shown above) featuring an actor pretending to be a blogger and to trademark the name. “I haven’t been able to write a new post in over a month while dealing with this—my creative energy has been zapped,” Barr wrote in a post revealing Adecco’s copycatting. “I’m no longer even the first thing that comes up when you Google my brand name. I’ve turned down work opportunities and put on hold any future travel job plans to deal with lawyers, long-distance phone calls, corporate executives, and other such nonsense—all along feeling misled and patronized.” Barr’s post led to a significant backlash that went viral late last week.

The apology: On Friday, Adecco publicly apologized in a Facebook post. “We clearly see that Turner is an inspiration to many people. We feel there should be more of such initiatives that inspire people to live their dreams and achieve their ambitions,” the company wrote. “Unfortunately, we moved forward with a name and contest that clearly upset Turner and his community. We sincerely apologize for that mistake.” The company noted that it had “engaged with him to try to make things right” but that “unfortunately, we have been unable to find common ground so far.” Adecco closed by expressing regret that its campaign to fight youth unemployment “has been negatively received.”

The lesson: Respect creators’ rights online, or a controversy like this one (or, worse, legal issues) could come back to haunt you. In an Associations Now article, authors Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum and A.J. Zottola offered strategies for handling social media content, including paying attention to copyright and using proper attribution. “Use caution when posting content that is not procured by or provided to your association with permission,” the authors wrote. “Remember to abide by any licensing terms and attribution or notice requirements, and ensure that your right to use extends to electronic formats (or otherwise modify your license forms/permissions to secure such rights).” In Adecco’s case, an effort  either to riff only slightly off Barr’s idea or to work directly with him might have helped the company avoid the PR kerfluffle.

Does your association have best practices for how you use or adapt others’ content and ideas? Tell us about what works for you in the comments.

A scene from Adecco's "Around the World in 80 Jobs" campaign. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!