Korean Sociological Image #16: Plagiarism in Advertising

Sean Connery Louis Vuitton( Source: Nevermind )

Korea has a deserved reputation for plagiarism, but it can surprisingly hard to provide definitive reasons for why this is the case. For example, had I been asked, I would have ventured that it was a combination of:

• the discouraging of creativity and the overwhelming use of rote-learning in Korean schools.

• the emphasis on results rather than processes, as evidenced by the university you attend being considered more important than what you learn there, or alternatively TOEIC scores being used by companies to select new recruits regardless of their actual spoken English ability, or if the job even requires it.

• the reality that university is widely regarded as a brief respite between studying for the entrance exam and corporate life, with much less of a workload than high school.

• a chronic lack of funds meaning that universities are extremely reluctant to expel students.

• and the Korean route to academic advancement, which far from having the egalitarian relationships that prevail in the West, can involve an almost slave-like dependency on professors by postgraduate students. The tasks they can be expected to perform for them can range from the mundane – like making their coffee – to doing the bulk of professors’ actual work, such as the marking of undergraduate essays, and usually for little or even no financial compensation. In such circumstances, it is no surprise to learn that Korean newspapers regularly feature cases of prominent academics being caught plagiarizing their students’ work.

Lotte Scotch BlueAnd for more on most of those points you can see this earlier post of mine on the Korean education system, and also this one by Seamus Walsh on the role of Confucianism in it. But they are all very much open to debate (and I encourage you to do so in the comments), and most importantly can probably be added to: the nature of the Korean music industry, for instance, is probably the real main factor behind this recent alleged case by Korean singer G-Dragon (G-드래곤). And so it proves that there is also a quirk specific to the advertising industry that encourages it there too.

Naturally, after two years of writing about Korean advertisements I’ve already discovered an example of plagiarism by a Korean advertising company, but that one pales by comparison with this on the right by Lotte Chilsung (롯데칠성음료) for its Scotch Blue Whiskey, which a spokesperson had the audacity to claim was only inspired by Louis Vuitton’s advertisement with Sean Connery above (with the tagline “There are journeys that turn into legends. Bahama Islands. 10:07”). It has since been withdrawn, but the Korea Times notes that “according to the Korea Advertising Board (KAB), companies accused of plagiarism are subject to penalty only when the original creator files a request for review.” Moreover, and herein lies the quirk, “in most cases, companies see the plagiarism of commercials as a win-win situation. They like their commercials to be copied and replayed by other companies, because it reminds consumers of their products,” said Kim Se-won of the KAB in 2006.

One wonders in this case though, as the single example available on the internet suggests that it must have been withdrawn rather quickly, perhaps indeed because of threatened legal action. But regardless, do you think the association of Scotch Blue with Louis Vuitton does detract from the latter? How about only in Korea specifically?

Update: With thanks to Florian for making it, here is the original Louis Vuitton advertisement resized and superimposed onto the Lotte Scotch Blue one:

Scotch Blue Louis Vuitton plagiarism

Like he says, at this level of similarity it’s more accurate to talk of copyright infringement rather than plagiarism!

(For all posts in the “Korean Sociological Images series, see here)


19 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #16: Plagiarism in Advertising

  1. Wow. I grew up in an advertising family, and that level of plagiarism by a company as big as Lotte is just incredible. Not to mention that the hand/scotch bottle are surprisingly bad photoshopping…


    1. Well spotted: I didn’t notice the photoshopping until you pointed it out.

      By the way, what happened with the company in the US ripping off a picture of you for one of their ads? I lost track sorry.


      1. Plagiarism in marketing is actually a way to mix the image of your product with the one you’re copying.

        Now, marketing department’s goal is to advertise their product, and not the copied one. Taking the same background (or so) with the same body position and fashion make the consumer recall the previous brand. The pre-called “bad Photoshop” is finally a way to put the new product on top of the background and so on top of the previous brand. Doubling and enlarging the bottle is an another way. That make sure consumer understand that they’re talking about scotch and not bags.

        So, why plagiarism for this case ? I understand that the marketing department tried to use Louis Vuitton luxe image to associate it to their product. It is as simple as that, i’m afraid.

        In my point of view I think this is a good ad for 3 reasons :
        – they use well the previous luxe image
        – you see well what is the product
        – people talk about their ad (aren’t we)


  2. May I also promote my post on the Korean education system and Confucianism here.

    And as for the plagiarism, it really is quite astounding. I wonder if they knew Sean Connery was Scottish though? Perhaps they should have just paid for permission to use the original photo of him and photo shop in the palm trees, map and whisky – probably would have made for a better advert all round in my opinion, considering it is for scotch.


    1. By all means; I’ll add it to the main text once I finish typing this.

      I’m not so sure the original Louis Vuitton advert would have been better as a Whiskey advert actually, as thick, heavy Whiskey and afternoons on the beach don’t really go together for me personally. Not to say that the original works either though, as given the value most owners place on their LV bags, I can’t imagine them lugging it around with them on a sandy beach like I would the $5 daypack I bought at the market down the road.


      1. I meant more in the way that they have a Scottish icon sitting in what could be in the original advert a Scottish beach, drinking Scotch whisky. I’m sure there’s a very passable advert in there waiting to get out. Surely it makes more sense than, like you just pointed out, the LV bag, or a man who probably drinks soju and Cass.


  3. I’m not sure how the plagirized person / company feels – but I’m sure it’s something like angst, at least until the link is made between the original and the copy. After all, I don’t make any money / publicity off of it until people know what they thought was the original is just a copy of the original.

    Not that I would suggest lawsuits… but turnabout – how about a non-Korean company copying some Korean?


  4. “the Korean route to academic advancement, which far from having the egalitarian relationships that prevail in the West, […]”

    Egalitarian relationship in the West?

    Teaching always assumes authority. How authority should be accepted and not imposed is another story, but don’t be fooled by appearances in the West. In Korea, things are more obvious, that’s all. In technical fields, the US model has won over most of the world’s universities and it leads to a strong pressure on professors, especially on tenure track, to bring in external funding. This is a business man’s job. In the meantime, who is often doing most of the real academic work?


    1. Sorry, I should have been clearer: I was referring specifically to relationships between professors and postgraduate students, which in my own experience at least are generally pretty egalitarian, marked by a not-insignificant amount of mutual respect. Not to say that all are like that of course, or that the former can’t and don’t ever abuse their position, but there’s nothing like the institutionalized servitude that Korean postgraduate students must endure.


  5. James, I understand. My field is Computer Science for many years now and I can only speak for that field and I can tell you that things are not so egalitarian as it may seem. There are far too many professors co-signing papers they haven’t contributed significantly. Everywhere. I have tutored a Korean student in master recently and the main problems were lack of English skills and almost complete inability to come up with a question in six months. Which leads me to think that, in a perverse kind of way, they may actually not dislike (I am prudent here) being told what to do. As far as I know, they don’t mind their professor to sign papers they did not even read. They only want the final diploma, at any cost. They could want education first, and judge the whole process and relationship relatively to this goal, but I fear that is not the case. All this to say that things are quite complex. I remember now asking postgraduate students in my lab in Daejeon, long time ago, if they liked to be patronised by their professors during the mandatory dinners. They said: “No.” Then, after a pause, they added: “But if the professor does not invite us, we feel rejected or neglected.” The very definition of a neurosis.


  6. I overlayed the original one on the korean one, at half opacity. only had to adapt the size, I changed nothing else but it fits perfectly.
    We could very well have done the same photoshopping with Mr Turnbull’s face ;)
    I would say.. at this level, I find “copyright infrigement” a more accurate term than “plagiarism”…
    And all this reminded me of the Suntory advertising campaign in “Lost in Translation”.


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