McCann Philippines Denies Claims It Plagiarized a 2014 South African Ad in Its New Tourism Campaign

Similar concepts drove three different spots

The ad disappeared from YouTube earlier today.

McCann Worldgroup Philippines is denying allegations of plagiarism after controversy arose over a new campaign promoting the country’s tourism department.

The new ad, “Sights,” works from a brilliant premise: A blind tourist visits the Philippines and rediscovers his other senses in the process. The subtle reveal arrives during the spot’s closing seconds in the form of a collapsible walking stick.

It’s a touching story that manages to illustrate many of the Pacific nation’s attractions in a short but wildly colorful film.

Yet, as noted on Monday by one astute Reddit user, it’s conceptually very similar to “Rediscover South Africa,” a 2014 tourism ad by Ireland/Davenport of Johannesburg.

Both efforts feature a blind man whose condition is not fully revealed until the ad’s last moments, and both use their protagonists’ disability to better illustrate the rich sensory experiences one might presumably have on vacation.

Several local publications reported on the Reddit post, and the Philippine Department of Tourism’s assistant secretary, Frederick Alegre, went on the TV show GMA News to Go to defend the work, saying, “You know how the creative agencies work; they’re able to present it in different manners.”

McCann elaborated on the matter in its own extensive statement: “In working with the Department of Tourism (DOT), we have been inspired by the many stories we have seen and heard, about why foreigners choose to visit the Philippines. Many of them have spoken about our innate warmth, the genuine friendships they have developed here, our hospitality that extends to a sense of family and the many reasons why it is the Filipino people that truly make it ‘more fun in the Philippines.'”

The statement also notes that “Sights” was inspired by a true story.

“Our research has also shown that, of the millions of visitors who visit the Philippines, thousands of foreigners from over 100 countries have chosen to live and retire here. Our latest film, ‘Sights,’ was particularly inspired by the story of a visually impaired foreigner who has made the Philippines his home and who has come to experience the Philippines in different ways,” the statement said.

“We acknowledge the feedback that the way this story was told may have similarities with the South African tourism campaign,” the statement continued. “It is unfortunate that the DOT has been called out and accused of plagiarism, for work we have done to highlight the testimonial of a real retiree. We take full responsibility, as all ideas and storyboards presented were conceptualized by McCann Worldgroup Philippines.”

The statement concluded, “We also underscore that there has never been any intention to copy others’ creative work. McCann Worldgroup Philippines has always strived to adhere to our guiding principle, ‘Truth Well Told,’ in everything we do. We stand by the integrity with which this campaign was developed.”

Interestingly, McCann Worldgroup Philippines was not the first agency accused of copying the underlying concept.

In early 2016, an ad for Tourisme Québec by Montreal-based agency lg2 went viral, with the French and English versions of the video garnering nearly 13 million views. Like “Rediscover South Africa,” that effort also featured a blind tourist and the many incredible experiences he had while visiting another country.

Like McCann, lg2 denied having copied the concept, and that agency’s work does lack the last-minute reveals of the other two spots.

The agency told CBC News that lg2 creative director Marc Fortin saw the South African campaign before production on the ad began but decided to proceed because he did not believe the similarities were so great as to negate the release of the Québec effort.

“Not at any moment did the South African spot influence the creation of our campaign,” an agency representative told Adweek at the time. “With the quantity of advertising films that are produced every year on the international scene, it is not surprising that ideas can sometimes meet.”

Maybe these three efforts simply demonstrate the power of a great idea.

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