3M 'Steals' Post-It Note Jaguar Viral Sensation


Sadly, there have been a few too many examples of brands co-opting the work of others for their own financial gain. Here's another. In December 2006, Scott Ableman and his co-workers decided to play a practical joke on another co-worker who drove a Jaguar and was one of those people who would park his car in a very remote spot so as to avoid scratches and dings. Ableman and friends plastered the co-worker's car with Post-It notes, took pictures of the resulting colorful design and posted them on Flickr. The whole thing turned into somewhat of a viral sensation.

Flash forward to early 2008. After seeing the viral sensation, 3M contacted Abelman to ask if they could use his work in an upcoming promotion. Abelman was more than willing. He checked with a friend in the licensing business to see what a fair price would be. 3M balked citing they could recreate and shoot their own version for $750 - $1,000. Abelman reduced his price and countered with $2,000. Ke never heard from 3M again thinking the project was dead.

A few months later, he started receiving many comments on his photos hosted on Flickr from people telling him they had seen his photo in Staples and offered congratulations for his seemingly lucrative deal with 3M. Turns out, 3M create and shot a Post-It Note car of their own for a POP.

There are more details on the story here but it sure does seem like yet another example of the big guy rolling right over the little guy with without regard for copyright let alone common decency.

by Steve Hall    Sep- 3-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Bad, Brands, Viral   

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Given the viral coverage they've gotten, you would think 3M would have gladly paid for it. Now, given the negative publicity they're going to get, they might reconsider. Thanks for pointing this out. I'm off to tarnish their image on my own blog right now.

Posted by: Jeffrey Simons on September 3, 2008 12:48 PM

This is awful! Shame on 3M! I have a feeling that this is a misguided employee who tried to sneak this in on a whim and on a small budget. The offer was not very well thought out and I think if they brought it to company executives, they could have capitalized on the people factor more. Now, imagine if Kelllogs put Michael Phelps on the cover of a cereal box without his full consent? This guy could have become a popular spokesperson for the company and now, sadly, for both, he's not. I am sure the campaign will come and go.


Posted by: John Trosko on September 3, 2008 12:55 PM

Shame on them! 3M couldn't cough up $2,000 for an original idea that had obviously gotten a hit count big enough to get their attention??? !!!! I agree with John, it sounds like one employee who was trying to get some props and not looking out for the values of the company! As a designer, my ideas are all I've got going for me. So not cool!

Posted by: brenda whitfield on September 3, 2008 1:50 PM

It is sad indeed. Fortunately, not all companies are the same. See what Save-A-Lot did when presented with a song about their chips. They posted it and gave credit to the band.


Posted by: Jan on September 3, 2008 1:51 PM

Is it really that big of a deal? Really? It's not like 3M ripped off some random idea and used for their own purposes those guys were using 3M's own product after all. Should they have floated some money this guy's way? Sure. Is it a big deal that they didn't? Nope.

Posted by: warren on September 3, 2008 2:02 PM

@ warren
Of course its a big deal. They reach out to the guy, which suggests they knew right away they were morally obligated to pay for the idea because it was already in circulation. The fucked up. I hope this bites them in the ass.

Posted by: Frumoy on September 3, 2008 3:05 PM

Warren - it's called MORALS, and the people at 3M obviously do not have them. Because they DID rip of a "random idea" from a random person. The fact that they used 3M post-it notes is incidental, they could have used the generic store brand ones.

Posted by: Jane Sample on September 3, 2008 3:14 PM

This is the best thing that could have happened to Scott. He'll be cashing in much more than 2K and buying jaguars for his whole family if he gets the right lawyers on this. I wish some company would steal my ideas.

Posted by: chad on September 3, 2008 4:35 PM

Covering a car with Post-It notes is hardly an idea. It's a prank, a stunt. And it wasn't even Scott's own idea--he was the recipient of the prank. I'm all for idea originality, but come on. I suppose Charmin can't portray kids TPing a house because they would need to pay royalties to the original creator of house TPing--wait, not even them, they would have to pay royalties to the homeowners who were TPed. Again, 3M should have floated some money as good sports. But a big deal this is not.

Posted by: Warren on September 3, 2008 4:48 PM


Help dig and favorite this story to bring it to lite. this company sucks

Posted by: todd on September 3, 2008 4:50 PM

Warren - read it again for the details:
1) the photographer wasn't the victim of the prank, he was one of the instigators and the one to chronicle it.

2) it wasn't just "some car with sticky notes on it", we're talking about the particular photos of "The Post-it Note Jaguar"... these particular photos gained a ton of buzz from hitting the front page of sites like Digg, BoingBoing, Flickr blog, Yahoo pick of the day etc.

3) 3M wanted *these* photos. They didn't just cover some random thing in Post-its... they recreated this particular car precisely because they knew people would recognize it. They ASKED about licensing THESE SPECIFIC photos.

Posted by: Joan on September 3, 2008 8:04 PM

Yep. 3M should've paid, especially given that it seems like the guy only asked $2K. But I do find it ironic that there's such an uproar about this and yet when Scrabulous clearly ripped off Scrabble, people seemed to have a pretty different opinion of how these things should be handled. After all, the Scrabulous folks clearly ripped off Scrabble, but how come no one defended Hasbro when they were the victims? Just askin' what makes the difference in these matters.

Posted by: David Polinchock on September 6, 2008 6:56 PM

Call me Useless, but instead of pointing fingers at 3M, why isn't anyone asking why Abelman didn't just take the $1000 and be thankful that someone appreciated the work? Instead, he got nothing for giving a brand a great promotion idea.

As far as I see it, whether 3M could afford it or not, Abelman had his chance, and he got greedy.

Posted by: USELESS MAN on September 15, 2008 12:48 PM

On the other hand, 3M got paid by someone for all those post it notes that were used to cover the jag. Someone somewhere owes someone money, I think....

Posted by: USELESS MAN on September 15, 2008 12:59 PM

Useless, I have a couple of problems with your comment. First, Scott did some research, found the market rate for his photos, offered that to 3M, and when they said no, he cut his price in half. By your analogy, I could go into a movie, offer them half price for a ticket, and they should take it and be happy because otherwise I could just copy it off the internet for free. Second, he did get appreciation for his work. He got tons of buzz, which was why 3M was interested in the first place and wanted his specific photos. Should a band with a popular album be happy if I bootleg it because it shows my appreciation of their work? Are they getting greedy if they want me to pay for it?

Posted by: Jeffrey Simons on September 16, 2008 10:04 AM

I think I missed the mark a little on my comment, so I do agree with the analogy you present Jeffery. However, here is where the murky water lay: When a movie goes to the theatre, it was made for that purpose. when a band produces an album, it was made that way.

I pulled a prank on a friend at work and took pictures and posted them for friends and others to laugh at. It was not done to make money. It was not a "creative request". So if someone found that picture and wanted to use it, anything I made off it would be profit. I didn't invest anything in the picture-making. It was for my own personal use.

That is where I see the difference between someone getting market rate for a picture that was produced for "sale", while another that is posted on the web for fun, and gets picked up for more.

I'd love to here others thoughts on this. I'm hoping someone will ask to use my stuff one day....

Posted by: USELESS MAN on September 30, 2008 11:51 AM

Hi Useless:
Sorry it took me so long to comment on our comment to my comment on... okay, enough already.
If I write a love poem to my wife, and post it on my Facebook page, and somebody decides to use it in a Hallmark card, did they plagiarize me?
Of course they did.
What's the difference between that and a photo? The creator of any form of creativity, unless done for hire or created or posted in some other declared relationship ("any contributions on this site are considered the work of...") should be the owner.
This idea of ownership even goes so far as to say that we own the rights to our own images. Otherwise, why would movies and commercials need model releases from everyone captured in a scene or photo?
As for market rate, I think quality should determine price, but in a pinch I'll settle for what the market will bear.

Posted by: Jeffrey Simons on November 17, 2008 3:46 PM