Malaysia 4As disqualifies two Dentsu Utama Kancils winners for plagiarism, agency resigns from industry association in protest

Two pieces of winning work at Malaysia’s most prestigious advertising awards show the Kancils have been disqualified for plagiarism.

Erik Johansson's work and Dentsu Utama's ad for Web Privacy Watch

Erik Johansson’s ‘The Architecht’ (left) and Dentsu Utama’s ad for Web Privacy Watch

“Professional Man”, a campaign for internet privacy awareness firm Web Privacy Watch by Dentsu Utama, “contained almost identical images” to the work of Swedish artist Erik Johansson, an optical illusion piece called The Architect, ruled ad industry body Malaysia 4As, the organiser of the Kancil Awards.

The same is true of “Cross River Gorilla”, an anti-poaching campaign for World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia by Dentsu Utama that bears similarities to the work of a British design student, the 4As determined.

Dentsu Utama’s ‘Cross River Gorilla’ WWF ad (right) and work of design student Tom Anders Watkins. Image: Malay Mail

Dentsu Utama’s ‘Cross River Gorilla’ WWF ad (right) and work of design student Tom Anders Watkins. Image: Malay Mail

“An investigation was initiated by the 4As following various complaints of the obvious similarities to the original creations,” said Tan Kien Eng, Kancils jury chair and CEO of advertising agency Leo Burnett Malaysia.

“This action is being taken to remedy a contentious situation while upholding the principles of eligibility for the Kancil Awards,” Tan said.

The agency’s award-winning work was developed after the work created by Erik Johansson and 21 year-old designer Tom Anders Watkins, the 4As confirmed, so the awards will be withdrawn.

The original creators have shown proof that their works were posted much earlier than the work by Dentsu Utama, Tan confirmed.

Anders Watkins complained about his work being copied in a social media post late December. “Hey, @dentsuaegis @WWF I think you may have blatantly copied my design in your award winning poster,” he tweeted. His complaint was picked up by a number of news outlets.

Dentsu Utama winning agency of the year at the Kancils

Dentsu Utama winning agency of the year at the Kancils in December

“Cross River Gorilla” claimed won 26 bronze awards and three silvers at the Kancils, while “Professional Man” won six bronzes. The awards helped Dentsu Utama win agency of the year at the Kancils last month, although that accolade is expected to now be attributed to another agency.

The investigation followed questions raised in two stories by Mumbrella following the announcement of the Kancils winners late last year.

“We take a serious view of work that is deemed sufficiently close to works created originally elsewhere,” Tan commented. “We must maintain a high level of integrity and credibility as the industry’s official body in Malaysia. The decision to disqualify the awards for both creative works was not taken lightly as we had explored all possible scenarios. In the end, the facts were overwhelmingly in favour of the original creators.”

Update: As a result of the ruling, Dentsu Utama has resigned from the 4As in protest, describing the decision to withdraw the awards as “unfounded”. The agency said in a statement shared with Mumbrella this afternoon:

On 29 December Dentsu Utama was accused of plagiarism, a claim it strongly disputes. Responding to these accusations, Dentsu Utama began an internal investigation supported by independent legal advice. The conclusion was that such accusations are unfounded.

Throughout this period Dentsu Utama has been openly cooperating with the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As) on this issue. Dentsu Utama, without being given the opportunity to defend itself, has now been informed that eight of the Kancils awards related to the WWF Anti-Poaching Cross River Gorilla, and the Web Privacy Watch – Professional Man campaigns won in December 2015, will be revoked. A decision which we believe is unsupported.

As a result Dentsu Utama and its representatives will resign from the 4As with immediate effect.

Dentsu Utama will continue its dialogue with the individual artists on this issue and continue to supports its opinion that the allegations are unfounded.

No further statements will be made at this moment in time.

"Not sufficiently similar"

“Not sufficiently similar”

Dentsu Aegis has confirmed with Mumbrella that the ruling will not bear any consequences for the staff responsible for the work.

The ruling comes the week after the 4As decided that a campaign by Dentsu Utama for Uyee Chinese Medical Company was “not sufficiently similar” to a project for a Chinese skateboard decoration firm Challenge Skateboard to constitute copyright infringement, and so warrant disqualification from the competition.

This year was the 20th anniversary of the Kancil Awards. Last year’s Kancils were also troubled by allegations of copycatting, with BBDO Malaysia’s work for KFC appearing to resemble work made for Burger King in German four years previously.


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