Jindal’s ‘Steel of India’ campaign—whose idea is it anyway?

W+K's idea and Jindal Steel's ad.
W+K's idea and Jindal Steel's ad.


  • ‘The Steel of India’ campaign has sparked controversy over allegations of idea theft from creative agency W+K India
  • W+K India accused Jindal Steel of plagiarizing its pitched concept, eventually leading to an out-of-court settlement

Jindal Steel and Power’s “The Steel of India" campaign has landed in a controversy with allegations of idea theft, igniting a fierce debate within the advertising industry. The row began when advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) India moved the Delhi High Court (HC) in March, alleging that Jindal Steel had plagiarized a campaign concept they had originally pitched and accusing the steelmaker of dishonouring a service agreement.

According to the petition by W+K, they had worked on the campaign for four months, receiving approval from Jindal Steel for the production house and other elements, only for Jindal Steel to abruptly abandon the project without explanation. W+K India was surprised to see the same campaign on air at the end of March, bearing a striking resemblance to the one they had presented to Jindal Steel in mid-2023.

Referred for arbitration

On 24 April, the Delhi HC referred the matter to arbitration, with some observations favouring W+K’s claim, though it did not allow for an interim injunction. “The launch by the respondent (Jindal Steel) of a new campaign prima facie seemed to be substantially based on a similar theme, expressed through a montage of sequential images and videos stitched together by a soundscape of steel," the court observed. “It is clarified that observations made above are purely prima facie in nature for the reason that this issue of infringement of copyright will have to be considered by the sole arbitrator."

This verdict led to an out-of-court settlement between the Delhi-based Jindal Steel and W+K, where the client paid the dues to W+K and got the intellectual property and other rights transferred.

Also read | Jindal Steel’s capacity expansion will fuel growth, but beware the China factor

Despite the settlement, the controversy resurfaced when Earlyman Films and Kondurkar Studio, which claimed credit for the campaign, entered it in the Cannes Lions awards and the Kyoorius Creative Awards 2024.

While the Kyoorius committee, after reviewing the case with industry juries and a legal team, decided to disqualify all entries from Kondurkar Studio and Earlyman Films across categories, the campaign went on to win a Silver Lion and a Bronze Lion at the 2024 Cannes Lions in the Film Craft category. This was despite the ongoing legal and ethical questions about its origin, rekindling the debate over who rightfully owns the idea behind the campaign.

‘Idea belongs to creator’

Piyush Pandey, legendary adman and adviser at Ogilvy (former executive chairman), called this a sad incident for the industry. “While it’s a difficult interpretation, my theory is simple: the idea belongs to the one who created the idea," he told Mint. “If the entire concept is under suspicion, then everything about it is invalid. Which is how Kyoorius looked at it. Cannes decided to look at it another way and awarded the campaign in the Film Craft category and not for the idea. The way I look at it is, if there is a relay race and the third runner drops the baton, but the fourth runs it best, the team can’t claim victory. Ultimately, one has to see whose idea it was. If there is a theft, the person who breaks open the locker can’t claim he is not connected to the theft at all, as he just opened the lock."

Read more | Jindal Steel earnings to get shipshape with better product mix, volume boost

In an official statement on Friday, W+K India said, “The Delhi High Court verdict clearly stated that prima facie the campaign was substantially similar to what we had presented to Jindal Steel, be it the theme, use of steel, visual imagery, or sound design. The matter was subsequently settled out of court to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Now the production house is coming and challenging us, claiming it’s not our idea."

When asked, a spokesperson from Jindal Steel said, “Jindal Steel cannot comment on the amicable settlement as it is bound by confidentiality. However, we clarify that the ‘The Steel of India’ campaign is our original idea, and we engaged Kondurkar Studio and Earlyman Films to bring our vision to life."

Incidentally, Amrish Kondurkar, the founder of Kondurkar Studio who was named in Cannes for idea creation, was earlier part of W+K until January 2023, when he started his own company.

Negative unfounded coverage

Defending their work, Kondurkar Studio said, “In recent weeks, Kondurkar Studio and its founder, Amrish Kondurkar, have been subjected to a wave of negative, unfounded, and unsubstantiated media coverage regarding the 'The Steel of India' campaign. Kondurkar embarked on an independent journey with integrity and creativity, dedicating his talents to creating original and impactful work. Despite his commendable efforts, he and his studio are being unfairly targeted by a larger competitor in the industry, under the pretext of bizarre accusations of copyright infringement and lack of originality. Kondurkar Studio developed this film based on the client’s brief, aiming to bring alive the Indian resilience to land on the brand line of ‘The Steel of India.’ The film, which signs off with ‘The Sound of India,’ is entirely original. We had no prior knowledge of anything that the larger agency might have earlier shared with our client. The Delhi High Court, after thorough adjudication, found no wrongdoing on the part of Kondurkar Studio."

The controversy underscores the challenges and complexities of intellectual property in the creative industry, raising important questions about the protection of creative ideas and the responsibilities of agencies and clients in safeguarding them.

As the debate continues, the industry watches closely to see how this case will influence future dealings and the broader ethical standards within the advertising landscape.

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