UK tourism drive identity not so OK, protests Sprout

The multi-million pound campaign to relaunch Britain as a tourist destination, UK OK, has run into controversy within a week of launch, with accusations that it plagiarises an existing slogan.

UK OK promises to be one of Britain’s biggest ever tourism campaigns. The British Tourist Authority unveiled the UK OK logo, created by ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, last Wednesday.

However, graphic designer and founder Keith Williams claims that it plagiarises a logo designed by him last year.

He is in discussions with copyright action group Acid over possible infringement.

Williams won a competition run last year by BBC Radio 4’s In Business programme, which he describes as ‘a bit of fun’, to create a brand identity for Britain (DW 24 May 2001).

Williams e-mailed his winning UK OK logo to several relevant bodies, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to see if they were interested in taking it further.

‘I thought my solution had mileage if it was used as part of a unified rebranding campaign [for Britain],’ Williams says.

Williams received a reply from the DCMS, saying the logo had been passed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Tourist Authority.

He had heard nothing from either body about his design work, he claims, but last week noticed the similarity between his work and the UK OK identity.

‘I haven’t yet decided what action to take,’ Williams says.

The BTA denies its logo is a copy of Williams’. In a statement it says: ‘Any similarities with other branding and marketing concepts are entirely unintentional on BTA’s part. The best marketing ideas are often the most obvious and simple.’

‘The UK OK device stood out because of its simplicity,’ adds BTA chairman David Quarmby. Acid chief executive Dids MacDonald says Williams’ case would be difficult to prove legally, as you cannot protect an ‘idea’. He has a clear paper trail behind him, but to pursue his case would be tricky and expensive, she says.

‘It is time major organisations acted responsibly and recognised the rightful owners of creative ideas,’ MacDonald says. ‘I can understand [Williams’] frustration. Great minds rarely think alike at the same time and the same place.’

Designers have fewer rights over ownership of a creative ‘idea’ than with a product, so it is vital that they do something to register it, she says.

Posting the idea to themselves in a stamped addressed envelope is a simple form of self-protection and can go some way to proving ownership, she suggests.

The BTA’s UK OK campaign is designed to woo overseas visitors back to the UK to try to recover some of the country’s lost tourism income since the foot-and-mouth outbreak and 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

British businesses supporting the campaign, such as British Airways and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, will feature the logo across a range of marketing activity.

The £5m international advertising campaign will also incorporate the logo.

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