Nikita Mishra
Jul 5, 2023

Plagiarism scandal fallout: DDB Philippines loses Tourism Dept contract

DOT terminates the US$900,000 contract with ad agency DDB Philippines; critics blame the local government for the fourth such tourism campaign debacle to make headlines.

'Love The Philippines' campaign (top) and Christina Garcia Frasco, Philippines tourism minister (bottom)
'Love The Philippines' campaign (top) and Christina Garcia Frasco, Philippines tourism minister (bottom)

The Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT) has terminated its contract with ad agency DDB Philippines, the agency it hired to prepare a promotional campaign for its new slogan, "Love the Philippines" after stock footage within the promotion was found to originate outside the country. 

In solidarity with the Filipinos who were outraged by the infamy, the DOT said it made the decision after the agency “publicly apologised,” and took “full responsibility”.

The Philippine DOT statement

DOT highlighted that its contract clearly stated that "material/s produced by the winning bidder should be original and aligned with the DoT's advocacies," and that it “reserves the right to change, suspend, or discontinue temporarily or permanently the contract at any time should the DoT deem the agency incapable of the project.”

The campaign AVP in question, a 1-minute 45-second film created by DDB Philippines that used unauthorised clips of foreign stock footage from tourist destinations such as Thailand, Dubai, Switzerland and Bali was removed from the official DOT Facebook page after allegations of plagiarism erupted online.

As reported by Campaign earlier, DDB apologised for including foreign stock footage in its promotional work and emphasised it was “intended to be a mood video to excite internal stakeholders about the campaign.”

In their defence, DDB Philippines says the use of stock footage in mood videos is standard practice; the problem and the oversight here is the use of unauthorised foreign locales to sell Philippines as a tourism destination. Simply put, the failure to tow the fine line between industry practice and glaring plagiarism.

Tourism Secretary, Christina Garcia Frasco, clarified that no public funds were squandered on this fiasco.

Campaign Asia-Pacific has contacted DDB Philippines for a statement but did not hear back at the time of publishing the story.

Plagiarism déjà vu: Caught in a loop

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco. Photo: DOT

Tourism is the bread and butter of the island nation, nearly 2.7 million inbound tourisms made their way to Philippines last year, that’s a rebound from the closures of 2020 but still 68% down from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The US$900,000 promotional campaign that left the tourism ministry in the country red-faced has become a political scandal, attracting sour-graping from rivals.

Filipino stateman and Albay’s second district representative Joey Salceda issued a quote to ANC’s Headstart in Tagalog that is translated to: “A congressional inquiry will definitely be inevitable in this case. In the meantime, I don't think that the flaw is irreversible."

To give some background, the current campaign consisted of three major parts: the development of the new slogan (budget: P50 million), the actual production of creative materials (budget: P250 million), and the international media placements (budget: P250 million).

Representative Salceda, along with stakeholder associations in the country, have long been urging the tourism minister to not change the still popular ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines,’ instead only tweak it to reflect the current post-pandemic sentiment of travellers.

Salceda has traditionally not been a fan of the ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’ tourism slogan in attracting inbound tourists. In the interview with Heaadstart, he said that “the power of the ‘Fun’ slogan was that viral memes could be generated by Filipinos about scenes from the country.”

A look at tourism data prior to the pandemic from 2012 to 2019 when the ‘Fun’ slogan was implemented shows that Philippines attracted nearly 33.4 million travellers, that is equal to a compounded annual growth rate of 8.6%. In comparison, the earlier ‘Wow Philippines’ tagline in the works from 2002 to 2010, attracted a total of 20.84 million tourists, a compounded growth rate of 5.8%.

The success of a tourism campaign and the subsequent footfalls cannot be pinned to a slogan or a piece of work alone. Factors like infrastructure, attractions, accessibility among others are highly important. Nonetheless, Salceda and other politicians are adamant that the slogan be changed.

“It will most likely be changed because it started on the wrong foot and it’s drawing bad vibes from the market. It comes out of a controversy.”

Senator Nancy Binay, the chair of the chamber’s Committee on Tourism, rests the blame squarely on DOT’s shoulders.

In a press statement to the local media, she came out strongly: “ This is not the first time that DOT and its agencies drew flak from netizens because of some creative lapses. There should be accountability because the people’s money are being spent by the DOT to pay the ad agencies.”

Agreeing with Salceda, she further suggested a “return to the ‘Fun’ because there’s a problem with ‘Love’ right now.”.

This is not the first time Philippines Department of Tourism finds itself in such a predicament. In fact, it is the fourth time it has fallen prey to plagiarism scandals.

The 2010 ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’, a campaign by ad agency Campaigns and Grey drew flak after it was found that the logo was lifted from Poland’s tourism campaign.

Then BBDO’s ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’ was also found to be a copy of the 1951 ‘It’s more fun in Switzerland’ campaign. Then tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez merely  pronounced it a "coincidence," and tweeted: "This Switzerland coincidence only makes our line truer. Sun tanning IS more fun in the Philippines." "C'mon, you have to give BBDO more credit than that," Jimenez said.

Magazine shot of the 1951 "It's more fun in Switzerland" campaign

Most recently in 2017, McCann Philippines was accused of “copying” with its ad ‘Experience the Philippines” that was strikingly similar to the South Africa “Meet South Africa” campaign.  

Screengrab of the McCann Worldgroup ad 'Sights' that is about a blind tourist visiting Philippines and rediscovering his other senses in the process

Trade publication Adobo Magazine broke the story; the scandal resulted in the instant termination of McCann Worldgroup, a fresh pitch process was reopened for a new creative partner to come on board.

The most obvious similarity is that both the ads used blind men as protagonists, South Africa’s ad was launched in 2016, the Philippine work in 2017. You can watch the two films below. 

Senator Nancy Binay continued in her scathing remarks: “The DOT should also be more discerning and critical on pegs, concepts, storyboards, and drafts that ad agencies present to them. There were lapses, too, on the part of the client.”

Facing the heat

The incident has hugely impacted online public sentiment towards DDB Philippines. Data analytics firm Carma tells Campaign Asia-Pacific that since the launch of the "Love the Philippines" video on June 27, there has been a huge spike of discussions across social media related to DDB Philippines.

“ Prior to this incident, DDB Philippines enjoyed a positive sentiment of 77% on social media. However, as a result of the incident, the brand sentiment has become 34.7% negative and only 3.7% positive,” says Charles Cheung, general manager, media intelligence at Carma.

The online sentiment of DDB Philippines drops after video blunder. Graph: Carma


Campaign Asia

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