How Plagiarism Is Killing The Chinese Advertising Industry

Poorly Made In China

Image credit to: Paul Midler

Plagiarism and China are two words that many people take hand in hand. Across nearly all Chinese industries from electronics (keep an eye out for the Chinese version of the iPad 2) to motoring, plagiarism is never far away.

A recent article by Andy Tsai discussed the phenomenon of plagiarism in the Chinese advertising industry. He cites a Sina Weibo posting by “乃東樂” (Nǎi dōng lè) in which the netizen reveals the Chinese advertising industry’s habit of plagiarising (aka “shanzhai”ing) work. He wants more advertising people and companies to understand the concept that plagiarising is cheating and calls for everyone to respect original work.

He certainly makes a good point. Here are some examples:

In the mad world of advertising, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. It’s painful to watch the Shanzhai adverts, and it will no doubt anger Chinese agencies. It gives the industry an awful reputation, it seems people can get away with “stealing” others hard work, not only without any consequences but also the copycats will probably be profiting off it too (at least in the short term).

What is of the greatest concern is that there are some ad agency bosses in China who are actually allowing blatantly plagiarised work out of their agency doors. It’s even more shocking because it stands against everything creative work should be.

I can only assume that perhaps Chinese clients are a tough bunch and have an unfounded assumption that re-using a successful idea will automatically give them the same success as the original had. This is far from the truth, Chinese consumers are not stupid, they can see a copycat commercial from a mile off. Here’s a great example posted on the main chinaSMACK site, where Lenovo of all companies rips-off a Fanta advert from Japan:

Shanzhai Chinese ‘Lenovo’ Commercial

Original Japanese ‘Fanta’ Commercial

The Chinese Consumer

If you read the Chinese reactions in the article, you will see how a number of Chinese netizens resent this kind of activity. Especially when the Chinese copycat commercials are of a lot lower quality than the originals. Should you be a regular reader, you will have seen that the Chinese ad industry is in fact producing some fantastic creative work and it’s such a shame that Shanzhai culture has infiltrated a sector that has creativity at its heart.

In saying all this, I must stress that it is good to borrow ideas and use them in new and interesting ways, it’s also more than ok to parody work (there some hilarious and well executed examples of this) – but plagiarising is plain wrong.

Can this kind of plagiarism be prevented in China?

My knowledge of Chinese law is pretty poor to say the least, but I know one thing is for certain – tighter restrictions need to be brought into play. To give you a flavour of how things work regarding Chinese Law and Advertising, read this article from the wise folk over at China Law Insight.

So where does this leave the Chinese Ad industry?

It’s not all doom and gloom, almost 99.99% of recent ad campaigns in the mainland are original creative pieces. Agencies can help themselves by educating clients about the benefits of orginal and quality creative, and the dangers of using work of others.

Thankfully, as we have seen, Mainland consumer attitudes to Shanzhai commercials are also changing for the better and they are beginning to see these knock-off ads for what they are…

Lazy and insulting.

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