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Philippines' Tourism Office Drops McCann After Plagiarism Complaints

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The Philippines' Department of Tourism said it was ending its partnership with McCann Worldgroup's local office after complaints about an ad that bore "glaring similarities" to a South African travel spot from three years ago. In a sharply worded statement, the client also demanded a public apology from McCann.

The ad from McCann Philippines, "Sights," follows a Japanese retiree as he cruises between islands, dances on rice terraces and rides on a dune buggy. There's a twist at the end, when the man leaves his table at a sidewalk café and unfurls a white cane, revealing that he's blind. "You don't have to see to feel you are home," the voiceover says.

Viewers quickly pointed out similarities to another tourism spot from South Africa in 2014, which also featured a blind character and a similar reveal at the end. The Philippines tourism bureau deleted the ad from YouTube, but it lives on in copies comparing it to the South African ad, like here:

McCann won the account late last year. The Department of Tourism account is one of the most high-profile in the southeast Asian country, and the news caused a stir locally. CNN's Philippine news site ran a breaking news banner when the tourism department dropped McCann. In the ad world, the Philippines tourism bureau's profile rose starting in 2012 with the launch of the popular "It's More Fun in the Philippines" platform, which was created by BBDO Guerrero.

An official statement from the Department of Tourism said it had reviewed the new ad and "decided to discontinue its partnership with McCann Worldgroup Philippines."

"In the midst of this controversy, the DOT expects a public apology from McCann over the negative feedback that 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 statement posted on Twitter.

The client also encouraged agencies with "fresh and original ideas" to pitch.

McCann's Asia Pacific headquarters said it could not immediately comment. A day earlier, when the agency started facing complaints, its Philippines office said it was unfortunate the Department of Tourism "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 said. "We also underscore that there has never been any intention to copy others' creative work."