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Christmas: Your Image Rights Are Worth More Than Four Cheeseburgers – A Cautionary Christmas Tale

“I just was at a stage in my life where cheeseburgers were really important to me” Hadleigh Sinclair.

Christmas is stressful.

Highly strung parents, lunch with inappropriate uncles and the inevitable December 24 Westfield mall clusterfuck of last-minute shopping for family and friends you should probably know better than you do.

For Hadleigh Sinclair and Jack Delmonte, the Christmas also brings with it a painful reminder that you shouldn’t go shopping – or sign contracts – on an empty stomach.

Four years ago, fresh out of uni and clinging to the bottom rung of the slippery advertising-industry ladder, Hadleigh and Jack – now creative partners at an agency in Sydney – wrote a Christmas television ad for paint company Resene.

The brief was Christmas charm and warm feelings on a cheap and cheerful budget. The boys roped in a mate of a mate to sing a Kiwi version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” and took off to the Coromandel with a camera to knock it out over the weekend.

“We had never imagined anyone being in the ad…[but] we started making it and were like ‘this sucks!’,” says Hadleigh, who decided to bring a bit of life to the advertisement by starring in it with Jack. Alas, there wasn’t much budget left to pay for actors, so the boys agreed to take remuneration in the form of McDonald’s.

“‘Jump in this ad, it’s only gonna run one year, it will be fine’,” he recalls being told. “And so we jumped in the ad and got paid in cheeseburgers.”

Four each from the Thames McDonald’s drive-through: Hadleigh’s order a regulation cheeseburger, Jack’s with extra mayo and no pickles, a street value of between $20 and $30.

Talent fees for a television ad start low and end high, with rollover fees if the ad continues to play in the years that follow. But working for cheap, if not necessarily cheeseburgers, is nothing new in television advertising. It’s a big part of the ‘do what it takes to get it done’ and ‘it’s all about the experience’ attitude thrust upon newbies to the industry.

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December 2013, a year after they shot the ad, texts, calls and Facebook posts start flooding Hadleigh’s phone.

He’s on TV again, running around with Jack, spreading Christmas joy and the gospel of good quality paints.

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“I emailed the dude who sang the song and I was like ‘bro, did you get paid?’ and he’s like ‘ummm, yeah they hooked me up with some more money’. And he’s like ‘did you get paid?’”

No more cheeseburgers ever came.

December 2014. December 2015. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s now the fourth Christmas in a row that the ad has played on television. On December television too, prime media-spend time for companies looking to cash in on the Christmas retail bonanza, each one bringing with it a harsh lesson in contract negotiation and rollovers for Hadleigh and Jack.

As I chat with Hadleigh over Skype, a trend begins to emerge. This isn’t the first time he’s received fast moving consumer goods as payment.

In 2011 he made a YouTube video for alcohol company Cody’s and was paid with a year’s supply of the brown stuff.

“I got an infected liver or something and I had to stop drinking for six months afterwards.”

Like a lot of bad food habits it all started at Otago Uni. “We used to settle bets in Dunedin with kid’s burgers from the Willowbank Dairy, so it’s quite a familiar currency.”

I ask Hadleigh if cheeseburgers still play a big part in his life.

“Massively so, massively so. I hold 2nd place in the Cheeseburger Challenge.” The Cheeseburger Challenge, also known as the Happy Meal challenge, is the quest to eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger, small fries and small coke in under a minute.

“46 seconds. [My friend] Hamish Mathieson is the only man faster – I think his is 42 seconds*.”

If you’ve attempted the Cheeseburger Challenge, you’ll know that’s impressive, it’s not as easy as it sounds. 46 seconds was the second part of an attempt at two in two minutes.

“I had two of them lined up and I smashed the first one out and it’s like one minute ten,” he says. “I was like ‘that’s too slow’, then boom, straight into the next one and that was 46 seconds.”

With such a profound love and respect for the cheeseburger, perhaps it’s not surprising that Hadleigh and Jack have decided to try and right what they perceive as Resene’s wrong. They’ve started a change.org petition, the text of which reads:

“Petitioning Mr and Mrs Resene. Fair Talent Fee for Jack and Hadleigh.”

“With the ad now playing for it’s fourth Christmas in a row, it’s time the boys received fair payment. They’re not asking for much, just $10,000 each so they can quit their jobs and go travelling for two weeks around Rarotonga.”

Why Rarotonga, I ask?

“It looks really nice, ya know? I don’t want to be greedy as well. I don’t want to say like, Europe, then I sound like a dick. Raro’s legit, it’s pretty reasonable to get there on Air New Zealand, and it’s beautiful, and you don’t have to change your money.”

Has he been there before?

“Nah but Jack has and he reckons it’s awesome.”

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A day after Skyping Hadleigh I ring Karen Warman who works in the communication department at Resene. She plays it with a straight bat, informing me that to her and Mr and Mrs Resene’s knowledge there were no shady back door cheeseburger deals.

“The agency supplied all the talent for us, and we were told that it was all paid for as part of the campaign,” she says.

I ask whether Mr and Mrs Resene might be interested in contributing to Hadleigh and Jack’s petition.

“We would be happy to contribute,” she laughs.

Within about three hours of my phone call with Karen, an update goes up on the petition page. I will leave the last words to the boys themselves, who, one hopes, have learned their lesson about instant cheeseburger gratification and roll over contracts.

From petition.org:

22 Dec 2015 — Thanks to everyone who signed.

Today we received an email from Resene…

We signed away our performances and intellectual property for patties and processed cheese, but in the spirit of Christmas they have shown incredible generosity, and what an amazing brand they are, by sending two little boys to a tropical island.

Throughout the whole process, from idea conception up until this petition, Resene have been absolute legends, and us, the idiots. They’ve been fair, honest and kind, while we have been naive and over excited about fast food and being on TV.

So looking back on this all, we asked ourselves, what have we learned?

Well.. a few things. Firstly, we can both hold our breath the whole way over the Kopu Bridge, and most importantly it’s never a good idea to do [sic] the supermarket shopping or sign a contract when you’re hungry.

Update:

Hadleigh has decided to donate the money Resene offered him for his trip to Raro to charity. Very Christmassy.

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