Philippine Department of Tourism Fires McCann and Demands a Public Apology Over Alleged Copycat Ad

Screengrab from Facebook/DepartmentOfTourism

By Patrick Coffee/adweek.com – The Philippine Department of Tourism has ended its relationship with McCann after approximately six months over a controversy sparked this week by accusations that the agency’s latest campaign plagiarized an earlier ad from South Africa and says it “expects a public apology.”

On Monday, McCann Worldgroup Philippines released “Sights,” an ad reportedly inspired by the true story of “a visually impaired foreigner who has made the Philippines his home.” Within hours of the video’s debut, one user in Reddit’s Philippines forum called it “a copycat” of a 2014 ad created by the Johannesburg agency Ireland/Davenport to promote South African tourism.

The two ads were very similar in concept. Both focused on a man who visits another country and has a series of exotic, visually impressive experiences. Both ended by subtly revealing their protagonists’ disability by way of a retractable cane pulled out in the final seconds.

Initially, both the tourism department and McCann defended the work, with the agency issuing a statement that addressed the matter by noting, “We acknowledge the feedback that the way this story was told may have similarities with the South African tourism campaign. … We stand by the integrity with which this campaign was developed.”

Earlier today, however, the video disappeared from YouTube. The Philippine Department of Tourism later held a press conference to announce it would be cutting ties with McCann and relaunching the procurement process to search for another creative agency of record. Here is a video of the conference as posted by Manila-based news organization Rappler.

The conference amounted to a harsh rebuke of McCann “after diligent review of the ad materials in question.”

“In the midst of the controversy, the DOT expects a public apology from McCann over the negative feedback the department has been receiving owing to the glaring similarities between McCann’s ‘Sights’ ad and South Africa’s ad released in 2014,” said the Department of Tourism’s assistant secretary, Frederick Alegre.

The client has yet to formally alert McCann as to the status of its contract.

“We learned this afternoon through various news reports and the press conference of [Alegre] of the Department of Tourism, that the DOT has decided to discontinue its partnership with McCann Worldgroup Philippines,” an agency spokesperson said today.

“McCann is waiting for formal communication from the DOT in connection with its decision to terminate our contract,” the statement continued. “We respect the decision made by the DOT and, while regrettable, we thank the DOT for the opportunity to serve, and we wish them continued success.”

McCann beat out incumbent BBDO Guerrero, which created the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” tagline to win the business in November 2016. At the time, Mumbrella Asia called it “one of the country’s most highly coveted advertising accounts” but did not provide specific spending totals.

Public pressure may have driven the DOT’s decision to reverse course. The controversy quickly grew so large that Sen. Nancy Binay of the Philippines proposed formally penalizing agencies found to have submitted “unoriginal ad concepts.”

This was not the first time the DOT was accused of plagiarism in its marketing efforts. In 2010, a local blogger noted striking similarities between a tourism logo developed by the Manila offices of Grey and the official logo of the Polish National Tourist Office.

Two years later, the Swiss ambassador to Manila downplayed the fact that the BBDO platform was nearly identical to “It’s more fun in Switzerland,” which his own country adopted as its tourism slogan in 1951.

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