Earlier this month, the entire advertising sector watched McCann Tel Aviv carry off 11 prizes for its ThisAbles IKEA accessibility campaign in the Cannes Lions Health and Wellness Grand Prix. Even from an international perspective, this is an impressive number of medals.
Behind the celebrations, however, a battle for the credit has been taking place in recent weeks under the media radar. Sources inform "Globes" that the Reut organization, which operates the TOM project for developing products for people with disabilities, is claiming that it is behind the creative idea in the campaign. Reut asserts that the way that the solutions and applications are formed is an idea that it presented to McCann and IKEA as part of joint work on the project, which is designed to be an Israeli pilot for a worldwide campaign.
According to Reut, following a process lasting a number of months and culminating in a price bid, McCann unexpectedly broke off contact with Reut, used its exact solutions, except for minor changes, and completely excluded Reut from its share in the project's success.
For its part, McCann completely denies these allegations, saying that Reut's idea as communicated to it was unrealistic and impractical. "Anyone can put up a website and write a presentation with a gilt-edged philosophy," a McCann senior executive says. "Cooperation with the organization failed for several reasons. Working with them seemed ephemeral and amateurish. We made no progress with them; at no stage was there any indication that they really knew how to do what they promised and to take responsibility for it. Even in the legal agreement they wanted to push through, they completely refused to accept any legal responsibility whatsoever. There has to be someone responsible in such projects"
The TOM project was founded five years ago based on Reut's community work, which showed that many people with disabilities get no response from the market because there are not enough people with a specific problem to justify investing in developing an expensive and complex solution.
Reut was founded in order to create solutions for these people. Its model is building a team from different disciplines - engineers, designers, and technology experts - working in a "makeathon" (a practical hackathon), while foregoing intellectual property and on an open code format available for everyone to use.
The product is placed on the TOM website, and anyone with access to a 3D printer anywhere in the world can download to a smartphone and print it. Reut believes that the ability to print the products in 3D is no less than a huge revolution, because it eliminates the quantitative constraint. They founded TOM with a clear vision and an ambitious goal: helping 250 million people within a decade.
TOM looked for global strategic cooperation with partners having a foothold in the production sector, global deployment, and technical and community staff. IKEA, which operates in 53 countries with extremely widely deployed branches, was therefore a natural candidate for cooperation. In 2016, TOM's managers say, they contacted senior IKEA executives and suggested that they conduct a pilot in Israel, to be applied globally at IKEA if successful.
TOM says that the proposal was presented to IKEA executives in the fall of 2016, a year before McCann began working on the project. The proposed idea referred, among other things, to the employees taking part in developing solutions for population groups with disabilities, while IKEA's stores would become the distribution platform.
The evidence shows that IKEA's management was enthusiastic about the idea. After a number of high-level talks and meetings, Reut was asked in June 2017 to start working with McCann, IKEA's advertising firm. A month later, a tripartite getting-started meeting was held between IKEA, McCann, and TOM. There are also disagreements about these events; McCann asserts that while the project was first presented to IKEA, the project was not ready when it entered the picture. In any case, people from TOM and McCann attended the getting-started meeting with IKEA after the parties simultaneously formed a direct connection.
Evidence presented to us indicates that the process with TOM took place over seven months, mainly with people from McCann. It included work and brainstorming meetings at which they tried to outline exactly how the project would operate. IKEA representatives also occasionally took part in the meetings.
For TOM, what took place conformed to what was usual in corporate responsibility - an equal partnership to which each partner brought its expertise. TOM says that the joint work was not confined to ideas thrown into the room. It says that the process involved McCann Europe's creative managers, among other things, and an organized presentation was prepared that included proposals and options for the way the process of formulating solutions would be conducted.
One of the people who worked on the project was Eldar Yusupov, a copywriter with cerebral palsy who works at McCann. McCann says that he was a real creator of ideas who deserves most of the credit. No one disputes that Yusupov came up with the idea of using IKEA furniture, and also made certain objections and devised certain solutions. His desire to use furniture suitable for his needs is featured in a presentation created by McCann in cooperation with TOM. "We realized that small changes could create a big difference, and that through adjustments, we would be able to affect Eldar's life and make it easier," one of the first slides states. "And not just him - 1.6 million disabled people. So we contacted people who were experts in finding solutions for disabled people - TOM."
The presentation refers extensively to TOM's activity and its working method. The people working there were supposed to be the party managing the process of finding and applying the solutions. The presentation suggest three options for carrying out the process of finding solutions, with the advantages of each solution, as well as the program of action for continuing design of 5-8 products, creating an accessible room, establishing a website, a campaign plan, etc.
In early February 2018, following seven months of joint work and submission of a price bid, McCann asked TOM to sign a supplier agreement and confidentiality documents. TOM says its discovered that McCann had contacted Milbat, another non-profit organization working with disabled people. They were told that the project would be brought up for discussion at the management meeting, and then all contact with TOM was subsequently broken off. McCann's people became unavailable, and the next time that TOM heard about the project was when IKEA's accessibility room was launched, but with other partners: Milbat and Access Israel.
"It was sad for us to see the video clip and campaign of McCann and IKEA. We're a non-profit venture that brought to these two Israeli-global corporations big ideas that could make the world a better place, and could also be good for them. On the other hand, however, was an advertising agency that talked to us of 'corporate responsibility' and 'contribution to society,' and was then revealed as a wolf in sheep's clothing that stole our poor sheep," Reut founder and president Gidi Grinstein, the originator of the project, says.
"Since the campaign went public four months ago, we tried to enlarge the pie. We kept quiet and a low media profile. We contacted the highest levels and reminded them what had happened. We demanded what we deserved, and repeatedly offered to renew our cooperation. It was talking to a brick wall. We experienced aggressive conduct like in a zero-sum game, in complete contrast to the spirit of TOM, which is based on trans-border cooperation for the sake of a better world."
McCann and IKEA's view of TOM's demand for recognition of its contribution to the campaign is completely different. For them, TOM is a supplier that did not deliver the goods and is now trying to take revenge. "Their entire purpose is to enter IKEA, and they are used extortion to achieve it," a senior McCann executive says off the record. "We didn't throw the idea away - we did the project with somebody else. We paid them - their price bid was NIS 200,000, and you don't throw away a supplier because of that. There was a process of trial and error in which two things happened: they were evaluated and suppliers were replaced. To go from there to hint that we used them and exploited them is a long distance. When we enter such a difficult project and work with a supplier, and get the impression that there is no chance that this supplier is capable of delivering the goods, and at a certain point the client says, 'It won't happen with that supplier,' then you replace the supplier."
McCann said in response, "As is customary in such cases, success has many fathers. The idea took form in over a year of hard work with Access Israel and Milbat, which specializes in developing products for people with disabilities. At the same time, we value the contribution of Reut at the beginning. Unfortunately, the attempt to include it as a supplier was unsuccessful, and we continued forward with other suppliers. Everyone should be proud of this important work for people with disabilities."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 30, 2019
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