DOT stands by 'Sights' ad despite plagiarism accusations

MANILA, Philippines – Despite backlash on social media over alleged plagiarism, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said it stands by its new commercial, "Sights."

There are accusations that the DOT's latest ad, created by McCann Worldgroup Philippines, copied an ad of the South Africa Tourism Agency.

"We stand by McCann; we stand by the creative execution. We know for a fact that the Philippines is a choice destination and is also a choice place to stay for retirees. It's all part of the choice series of ads to show the spirit of the Filipino," said Frederick Alegre, DOT Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public Affairs, Communications, and Special Projects.

The commercial, released on Monday, June 12, drew criticism as social media users pointed out its similarities in narrative and style to South Africa's tourism campaign called "Reconsider South Africa." In both videos, a blind man explores beautiful destinations. For the DOT, it was a Japanese retiree who chose to live in the Philippines.

According to the DOT, its ad mainly targets retirees from all over the world. The commercial will be aired in countries with aging populations such as Japan and South Korea over the next 3 to 4 months.

'Due diligence'

McCann also reiterated that they conceptualized the commercial based on a true story. (READ: McCann responds to plagiarism accusations vs DOT ad)

"All our concepts were original. It was brainstormed and based on the truth that we found. There was no plan to pick up pieces from other ads. That's not the direction and that's not the way it works," Niña Terol, McCann assistant vice president for corporate affairs, told Rappler.

"Due diligence is part of our review and we can categorically say that there was no copying and no intention to copy. We've been an agency that has operated for over a century around the world and we're not going to compromise our integrity for any reason whatsoever," she also said.

Terol could not immediately confirm whether McCann was aware of the South African ad even before the controversy broke out.

But she said there was constant communication between the DOT and the ad agency throughout the creative process.

"At every stage there really has to be client approval. The team works together and there is client approval befoe anything is released," said Terol.

Alegre noted that while the two ads have similarities, they have unique propositions. In the case of the DOT ad, this was its targeted approach to retirees.

"I've been in the media and advertisement industry for a long time and there are really creative executions to similarly situated stories but have unique propositions. It can be about anything under the sun – [for example] the experience. But we can use it in a different angle and that's accepted. It's something that's accepted in the advertising industry," said Alegre.

Not the first time

This is not the first time the DOT has been criticized for lack of originality. The previous slogan, "It's more fun in the Philippines," was quickly compared to a vintage 1951 ad used by Switzerland.

Moving forward, Alegre told Rappler that the DOT will continue to respond to Filipinos giving feedback on the country's tourism campaign.

"I think it's important that we are able to react to them (netizens). We're happy to be able to engage because when it is discussed people will understand it better. In that sense, it's the essence of social media so it's fair game," Alegre said.

"We have a 24/7 social media team that does nothing but react to them (netizens) based on our campaign," he added.

Alegre also said the DOT is reviewing the processes in place to ensure originality in its promotional materials. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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