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)