Richmond Shop Boldly Calls Out Cultivator's Work for New Belgium as a Rip — Brewery Responds

/ Comments (91)

So the drama of the day across the adland interwebs revolves around a site launched by Richmond, Virginia-based agency Work Labs. The site is dedicated to pointing out all the ways that New Belgium's Shift Beer (and the work done for the new brand by Denver's Cultivator Advertising & Design) replicates a campaign previously produced seven years ago and shown to New Belgium by Work Labs.

We'd like your take on it, but here's our take on being so vocal with accusations. You better be damn sure it's true — especially in building a site just to point out the infringement then Tweeting it all over the internet to the likes of HuffPo, Mashable and AgencySpy.

Here's New Belgium's reaction to the accusation, straight from the source:

"Here at New Belgium Brewing we have always taken great pride in creating innovative, original communications to engage our audience. Shift Pale Lager is inspired by our twenty-plus year tradition of having a shift beer at the end of the day. The imagery and taglines are reflections of our culture and of the universal sense of accomplishment that comes from collaboration. Shift is our own original work and was created independently.”


And Work Labs work looks a lot like French Papers 5+ years before that. Meh.

Close enough. Be mad.

Everything gets recycled eventually. Look at the clothes you're wearing today!

They look a lot alike. Same concept too. Well, I like 'em both. Let's just call the first one 'inspiration' for the second.

Then who ripped off these guys?

There are far too many similarities in the concept to be misconstrued as coincidental. If you look at this and think that Cultivator lacked any knowledge of Work Beer's 2005 campaign—you're in denial.

Personally though, I'd be more ashamed of how shitty the creative is on that iPhone app.

Looks to me that both agencies were lazy. Was this the first idea each of them came up with or the 2nd b/c its clearly not a strategy that anyone spent a great deal of time on? Wow your beer is called "Shift" and "Work" and the agencies took it to the most obvious place possible.

I'm sure that using Fred Flintstone flying down the back of the dinosaur at quitting time is on the cutting room floor somewhere....

i see RedBull when i see that can, not lager

Wow it does look like RedBull.

according to the blurb, work labs says they showed the work to another brewery that uses cultivator, not to new belgium.

"Since showing its campaign in 2005 to a brewery in Colorado, Work Labs has maintained a strong relationship with this brewery. Said brewery also uses the same ad agency as New Belgium Brewery. That other Colorado brewery loved the campaign but was not yet ready to launch a new beer."

so are they actually accusing this mystery brewer (probably great divide or breck) of showing the work to cultivator, who then used it for new belgium? or is it time for me to clock out and crack open another cold one?

It doesn't make all that much sense the way they've stated it. We had the same issue trying to riddle it. Open to interpretation the same as their accusation.

Yes, it's beer time for all.

Brought Shift to a BBQ this weekend in SF and it was a big hit. Very tasty.

That aside, it looks a lot alike, but they are certainly overreacting.

A campaign from seven years ago? Where did it run?

I couldn't help but notice that Cultivator's Art Director attended James Madison University from '98-'02 -- just a few miles outside of Richmond. Cabell and I concepted and art directed the Work Beer poster at the top in 1999. Coincidence...or else?

Cabell's taking the high road in my opinion. Me, I'm just pissed. Inspiration is one thing. Plagiarizing ideas, imagery and copy is entirely another.

Their portfolio is quite good. Frankly I'm baffled as to why they'd sink to this level?

I could ignore the direct lift of "Job well done" and "Clock out" if not for the really, really obvious flow chart art direction in the second piece. Goes pretty far beyond "inspiration" for me, and more into "here's a thing I saw before".

They could be leagues turdier! At least it wasn't for Rolling Rock. And since I'm not symbolizing this as having a beer with any of y'all on whomever.... A beer a shift is the oldest saying old as Schlitz, so what's the beef. Who are we hating on? Who gives a flinging f^^k?

Agreed the idea of beer as reward for hard work is as old as, um, beer itself.

But the word-for-word lifted copy and matching typefaces are pretty damning. And the iPhone app that's an exact rip of a years-old 'quitting time web thingy' is just plain lazy. Come on guys -- you had 7+ years to improve on the idea you ripped off.

If I were New Belgium, I would fire Cultivator, immediately. They clearly didn't do their homework (or maybe they did extra homework and found the WorkLabs content). I just can't see New Belgium purposely snatching someone else's 7 year old campaign.

However... with that said, the similarities between the two campaigns and the Virginia connection to Cultivator is pretty damning IMHO.

I'm going to go drink a Red Bull (errr... Shift) now.

Completely, shamelessly ripped off. There is no question.

Just another reason I won't be buying New Belgium beer. Besides the fact that it sucks.

Since I am close to the Ad creative on all of this I have to say that there is no way ripped off. Do you really think this was the first working man's beer ever made? Come on give these guys some credit. Cultivator has continually cranked out good original creative work over the years and have never needed to rip anything off. Do Coors and Bud go at it saying they ripped each other off over their use of girls in bikini's next to their watered down beer?

So many beers in the past have been geared towards the working man. Having a beer after your shift. Does work labs really think they were the first ones to come up with a beer for hard days work?

Really? come on..

I would be pissed. The first two are way too similar to be coincidence.
Yes, Cultivator does great work. No, they don't have to rip anyone off. But, in this case, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

You're going to respond with excuses?

I'd say there is more similarity in the actual execution than the concept of the working man enjoying a beer after work.

Call spade a spade man.

You're right John Johnston, "Do you really think this was the first working man's beer ever made?"

Clearly its not...but at least the team could have found a more original idea...

It's one thing to be inspired by other creative. Saying that the Work Beer creative looks a lot like French Papers is fine. It's paper vs. beer. But these are both beers, using the same art direction style, using the same lines. I mean, they use the same typeface for fucks sake.

Too close to be a coincidence. Probably, the art director figured no one would ever find out they were 'borrowing' from an old campaign no one saw. Cultivator should be either ashamed or embarrassed or both. It's one thing to be inspired by others' work. It's another to copy it.
Regardless of if it's good work or not.

cultivating RIPOFFS


I agree that this is close, but I doubt it's a ripoff. The idea and the lines definitely live in the "obvious" realm, so I could easily see both agencies arriving at the same lines.

Also, the comparison of the flow chart shouldn't be included as the New Belgium flow chart doesn't appear to be part of the Shift campaign. And let's face it every agency in the U.S. has done a flow chart.

why hasn't Cultivator responded to this yet??

So - in the third piece - I guess the red hash mark box outlining text with a line drawn to almost the exact same "clock out" copy is just a coincidence too? C'mon people. This is stealing.

I think work ripped off Lavern & Shirley with the glove and beer bottle shot.
What a bunch of Hacks.

I can't help but take issue with the slew of comments damning the use of phrases like "clock out" and "job well done," et al. I've worked on a (non-beer) "working-man's" beverage brand before and these turns of phrase are colloquialisms tied to the overarching blue collar, work hard concept. It's unfair to damn Cultivator for using these phrases, as they're certainly not the brainchildren of Work (or any other agency).

Regarding the similarity in typefaces between the two campaigns, one should note that NB has been using that sharp sans serif on their packaging for some time now... they didn't just roll it out for Shift. (Trade Gothic maybe?) Commenters, do YOUR homework.

The bottom line is, the bounds of intellectual property law and the definitions of stealing v. borrowing or being inspired by are blurry at best. I've admired Cultivator's work for a long time and I find it hard to believe that anyone in their employ would intentionally steal the work of another small business just trying to make it in this highly competitive, dog-eat-dog industry.

Not because people are intentionally good. But because I bet they want to STAY in business for the foreseeable future.

Looks to me like this Richmond shop is trying to piggyback on the success of other shops. This is nothing more than a blatant solicitation to sell his concept and get some free exposure - free beyond the copious time he has poured into putting all together (I only hope this didn't involve any new creative...). Just see his website. The guy has been trying unsuccessfully to sell this concept for 7 years. This reeks of desperation.

Totally agree with "Just sayin'" - is anyone dumb enough to think they own the idea of a beer being a reward for a job well done?

I think my father said that to me when I was 12 (1974), does that mean that Work Labs stole this from my old man?

re: the Virginia connection, James Madison University 'just outside richmond'!? Try ~130 miles, at least 2.5 hour drive outside, maybe this 'Viriginia connection' claim would be credible if it was a VCU Brandcenter alum. I think Work is reaching, they've had 7 years and I'm sure we could make the claim that they're ripping off some old Miller, Pabst or Schlitz campaign from Life Magazine in the 40's

Whether or not it's true, it comes off as sour grapes.

As previously noted, look at number three. Red dashing is the smoking gun.

As New Belgium has publicly stated this week, the Shift beer concept has been part of their brewery culture for two decades and was not an idea created by us. As an agency, we’ve spent 12 years crafting unique marketing campaigns for our clients. We never borrow from other agency’s work. It is not only counter-productive to our clients and our reputation, it's simply not how we do business. We're also not the type of agency who talks badly about other agencies, so we'll just leave it at that.


after all of this talk, i'm gonna go get shift faced!

Aren't the red lines meant to be call-outs demonstrating/outlining the supposed copying on elements that are too small to read, not actually design elements? Just sayin'.

where can I buy this beer called work? Oh, that's right they don't brew it. Sounds like work is looking for a paycheck to try and fund a failed beer.

Cultivator is one of the most ethical, least self-serving bunch of creative talent I have ever had the priviledge to work with...and I have worked with many. When working with them on a large pro bono project they wanted to remain low key in recognition and high key on the creative they donated.
Shame on the Virginia agency for not collecting all the information.
And really, who is being self serving here? Maybe the company that spent the time to design a website dishin' dirt? Ya, think?

Cultivator are all nice guys but this work is a direct lift. I'm sure the heads of the agency didn't know it when the creatives presented it to them. It's an old campaign. I remember it.

Fire the creative team, apologize to the client and tell the community that this slipped by, no excuses.

Don't blame the Virginia agency for being upset. I think it was tacky to do a site calling Cultivator out. The mature professional thing to do is make a call, and sort it out.

Outside the press or public eye.


Will the real anonymous please stand up?

Correct me if I am wrong, but we are arguing about a beer called Work that doesn't exist. Right? We are also talking about advertising, where ideas in all categories are constantly being created, rehashed, and improved upon. (Improved upon, being the operative words here.)

I guess I'm having a hard time grasping why everyone has wasted so much anger, frustration and time on something so unimportant. Specifically Cabell, the CD at Work Labs, who devoted his otherwise billable time to building a new website to bash another agency. That stinks in so many ways. It kinda blows my mind.

To many of your points about the obviousness (and therefore unoriginality of either idea) I agree, the work is pretty obvious. That's why both agencies landed at the same place. So now we're not even arguing about good work! Just mediocre work. But it's work that is fun. That's all it's meant to be. Something fun people can rally around and have fun with. Like beer itself. So why don't we grab a drink, lighten up and find something real to waste our energy complaining about.

P.S. Gunman on the knoll, thank you. I was wondering if I was missing something. But that is a CALL OUT box, not a design element. WTF people.

Sound like a job for the Strong Arm.

You dont remember this ad campaign bc it never existed.

This is a shameless PR stunt by and a shame that Cultivator is being dragged into it.

Yes. Be mad. Be pissed. And Cultivator should stop cultivating the work of others and, hopefully be fired by this client and others. Hacks of the lowest order. No. Doubt.

To those who defend this, it is a shame you have never created anything, I suppose. There can be no doubt about this really. I mean, come the eff on.

Mind you, I had no hand in this, but have had work stolen before. It sucks and if it doesn't piss you off when it happens, then you should find a job painting fences or something.

Matt Neren - Cultivator (not verified),

I see you only defend by saying the beer has existed for a long while NOT the concept for the campaign you lifted so obviously. That speaks volumes.

You are caught. Stop making excuses and save what little of your credibility you have to hang onto right now. Stunts like this have got to stop and the political bullshit that comes after the stunts shouldn't start in the first place.

Admit. Fire those responsible. Move on.

Writer Man Guy

You misread Matt's comment.

He said: the Shift beer concept has been part of their brewery culture for two decades and was not an idea created by us.

YOU move on.

Interesting that no one's brought up that New Belgium could be the guilty party in all this, not Cultivator. Maybe the brewery did see the campaign and strong-armed Cultivator into being the wrists to execute it. The true story will probably never been known.

I had WORK beer in Richmond, VA once. It was good. Their branded glasses were cooler. Their campaign was also featured in CA if I'm not mistaken.

Having said that, I like turtles.

This is bullshit.

Cultivator did not pilfer ideas.

They are the classiest folks in town.

On the other hand: the work beer did snake art direction from:

French paper

"Clock out. Crack open"
is a much better headline than
"Clock out. Pop a top"

"For a job well done" Is one of the most ubiquitous headlines ever.

The info graphic idea is literally everywhere right now.

The other thing is that Work Beer is completely fake!
It's not even a real client !

I agree with gimme a fucking break.

This is crap.

Cultivator aggregated the creative.

They should be shamed out of business for out right stealing.

Loved the Work beer stuff and it won a bunch of awards.

No excuse at all for this and Work should litigate this asap.

Truly amazing, down to the type treatment.

Never heard of Cultivator and they should never be heard from again.

New Belgium, time to fire your agency, ask for your money back.

When I'm done with work, why would I want more work?

Isn't New Belgium opening shop in Asheville?

Give me a break...ASHville. You're a Loser! Good attempt at a good one?!

I don't have a dog in this hunt, but I know just enough about the origins of the original work to be dangerous.

Cabell Harris created his WORK brand to be more than just an ad agency. Over the years he has created products bearing his brand and tried to market them. WORK Beer was one such idea. He created it and tried to have it contract brewed and distributed. Part of his sales pitch was to show the work that would support it. It would appear that he approached New Belgium in this way and they declined.

But for all of you saying the beer is fake, that's just untrue. Cabell did have it made in small batches and it was distributed locally and used as promotions pieces for his business. Many people in Richmond back then got to enjoy it. Cabell is a shameless promoter, no doubt, but he's also got a closet full of awards that shows he's great at what he does.

The bigger issue is one of ripoff or not.

There is a ton of circumstantial evidence. It would be easy to dismiss one or two of these as coincidence. But when you start to add up the facts that:

New Belgium HAD seen the concept and work
The lines are the same
The fonts are the same
The idea is the same
The flow chart is virtually the same
They're both for beer
Did I mention that New Belgium HAD SEEN CABELL's WORK.

The other bit that someone tried to dismiss was that the AD went to James Madison when Cabell's work was making the rounds. Yes, the school is "130 miles" from Richmond. But I know that the ad club there was very engaged with what was going on in Richmond agencies. They were always having speakers, critiques and showings with Richmond ad people and work that was getting into the shows. I would find it nearly impossible to believe that this person wasn't aware of WORK and its work.

So, who's at fault? Only the people involved will know that but it does not reflect well on either the brewery or the agency. There will probably never be a public admission of guilt, however, the work should be pulled and someone should quietly be slapped, hard.

Next topic please... this is getting pretty childish. I think all you haters out there should go over there and speak your mind in person over a nice cold shift. Then get on with your lives.

You Move On - READ THE WORDS YOU JUST POSTED. The concept of the beer was defended NOT the concept of the campaign. It is a political, face-saving tap dance that nobody is buying.

Again, anybody who defends this and works as a creative is outing themselves as a hack. Period. End of story. There has never been a less defensible case of plagiarism than this.

If the folks at Cultivator have another version of things, let's hear it, but sad attempts to bob and weave aren't going to cut it, guys, and you know it.

Also, defends your friends by saying they are classy does not relate to the issue at hand. We are not talking about how much fun they are to have a beer with but more if they did or did not steal a beer campaign. The confusion is understandable, but let's stay on track here.

"defending" oops

Just going to throw this out there and then we can hopefully all move on...

The Flow chart that is being called into question isn't even a part of the campaign. That is an internal poster created by New Belgium years ago. It has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Shift.

Also those who are calling for blood on this need to step back. This has happened before, and wont be the last time. We will never totally know the truth of what happened, yes there are similarities between the campaigns but stick a few creatives in a room and tell them to make a campaign for a working mans beer and you will get a very similar execution. it's a logical path to take for the idea.

"but stick a few creatives in a room and tell them to make a campaign for a working mans beer and you will get a very similar execution."

Yes, but throw in a client and an AD who was presented/had seen stunningly similar work in this category and said creatives need to make damn sure they stay far away from similar executions. At least, that's what any non-hack would do to keep from being called out.

Unless you think it'd be cool if they came out with frogs who each said part of the beers name. Or maybe said "It's Shift Time!".

Of course they wouldn't because they'd piss off giant brands with deep pockets.

Instead they just chose to piss on the little guy. Nice.

Ex-Martin. How do you know that AD ever saw the work or even works on the account in the first place? Your ability to assume things is amazing!

Also, you seem like an angry person.

Yes, the AD involvement is information (assumption) repeated based on commentary from here and other places. May not be true. But I've also not mentioned anyone by name (nor would I if proven true). It just seems to be another coincidence log on the fire.

Nah, not angry. I just get annoyed when people try to get away with stuff like this. Particularly when takes away from friends. I know it happens in this business, and many times it's not intentional. This instance just feels wrong. I get that people/organizations make mistakes or have lapses in judgement. Could even be from lack of honest communication. But if you get caught out fess up and fix it. And I don't mean they have to fess up publicly. The parties involved should do the right thing. But I know that's not happening.

It's Catsup!

In a creative method with like products, styles, processes, concepts, programs, equipment, and computers. They all tend to overlap and blend in!

It takes a really trained researched and trained eye to call out "RIPOFF"!

Plus, I think people are way to obsessed and worried about it. So what. Bigwigs can use the rights to make a mint and do nothing, but there are other ways to look at it one being flattery.

I care not about drama or friends or whatever other absurd crap, Hoopla, but I do get the equality of fair employment and pay and opportunity(if that is what you assume it to mean?) and I myself have been through the worst of it and contest to the poorest job of all society in most environs without finger pointing and made up shmearing!
People are ruthless. It is a competitive toppler out there. The color has been changed from red to black as of right this second.

Looks like there really was a work beer. At least according to Mr. Harris.

Just to clear up one important fact. Ex-Martin and all the other conspiracy theorists that suggest that the A/D somehow went to school and saw this old work is FLAT WRONG. Period. I know him personally. First off, he didn't even go to school there. And second, he has never had anything to do with the work Cultivator produces for New Belgium. You can all rant away as much as you want but please be careful with the differences between assumption and fact. I hope you can all get out, have a beer and relax this weekend.

Actually, Main Street Brewing Company did make Work Beer for a good long while before they went under.

It was Main Street's highest seller and was sold in four states.
It existed. People bought it. People drank it.

Unfortunately, the brewery went under (as breweries do), but Work Labs retained the rights and has been looking for another brewer to take it up ever since.

Work Beer existed a long time before Shift Beer, just like Work Beer's advertising existed a long time before Shift Beer's advertising did.

People can defend Cultivator all they want and knock Cabell Harris for simply calling out what he sees as theft.

Do us all a favor, though, and stop acting like this was a student project or something that only existed in Cabell's mind. It was real, he made it, and that said, he has every right to be pissed.

Maybe Cabell should address his need to rip off CSA then?

Maybe Cabell Harris should trade in his closet full of meaningless awards for a set of balls so he can personally take this up with New Belgium and/or Cultivator. But it's nice to see he's keeping the hacks on the internet entertained.

He did and they stiff armed him.

On to plan B.

Should Cultivator be flattered or mad!?

Either way, I can guarantee you they won't take it as an opportunity to slander Miller Coors or its agency.

Why would Cultivator be flattered or mad?

They didn't invent Shift. And the packaging for the Coors stuff looks nothing like the Shift packaging.

New Belgium are the ones who should be irked.

Interesting reaction the Richmond ad community had to Cabell's claims:

More at

Also, love reading the confessions of unrepentant hacks. "Meaningless awards," says Mr. Career Nobody Would Wish on an Enemy.

There is no chance at all this stuff was not ripped off and all of us know this. There is 1 chance in a billion two minds could come up with the exact same font, executions, tone and copy. None of us here believe that happened. Just some of us here work at a place trying to dig out of a massive hole.

You'd think they'd notice it getting deeper and stop digging. Oh well, once the pubs pick it up, these comments will find new audiences. Keep talking, geniuses.

Wow... This adsuckages...and I could give a fuk less!

Sometimes when people are flagrantly low and want a fierce reaction the best gratification is to not even blink take notice and walk away. Really.

McKinney ripped off Work for their client Big Boss Brewery

Whatever you do...Don't say their beer sucks in a close approximatey to them!

New Belgium and Cultivator have a new campaign out already to try to fix things.

Check it out:

Fuck it! Rippin' off work is the new black.

^ Your Just Imagining Riping of the Beer Girls WatcheveryouMcCallit!

Guilty as fuck. Fire all involved.

I had to skip most of these comments because about a quarter of the way through I got really tired of dumbasses that keep saying shit like "Deeerrrp, it not a rip off bruh! Evaryayone likes to haves a beer a deerrrrrr after a work... *droool*" It isn't about the concept of having a damn beer after work, it is about a plagiarized ad campaign, wtf is wrong with you morons? And as far as THAT goes, anyone who cannot see the obviously blatant similarities, in EVERY WAY, not just the type face, not just the "for a job well done", fucking EVERYTHING! They just look like the originals were looked at and given a new color scheme and a couple details from different ads were switched. Either this was a obvious plagiarism crime, or some dude that works for their ad company sold them an obvious plagiarism crime, or someone involved with the creation of the original, created the same thing over again for them. Why are people even considering for a moment that this could be coincidental? I am angered by the stupidity of people that post on this website. And by the way, I don't really care for shift. It tastes ok, sure. But this will be the last time I pay $10.00 for 4 "ok tasting" beers, and that has nothing to do with the ads, it has to do with the taste of the beer and the price. In my mind the is a disgrace for New Belgium, every other beer from them has been magnificent in my taste. *angry sigh*

Hey, Cultivator, your astroturfing threads like this didn't make things better.

Look like your humiliation must be continued.


can't people get sued for something like that?!

I find this article ridiculous considering how much stealing goes on daily at ad agencies. Steal from an unknown artist....fine. Steal from another ad hoo.

If you have time to research this comparison, odds are you're sitting on your thumbs not making anything worth a squat.

I don't work at either agency or share any love for either of the campaigns. They are both pretty boring.

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