One of these things is A LOT like the other: Little Swan in big mess over ad plagiarism

A side-by-side comparison of an ad by washing machine manufacturer Little Swan (left) and an ad for the Hong Kong Ballet (right) produced almost a year earlier. Photos via Instagram.
A side-by-side comparison of an ad by washing machine manufacturer Little Swan (left) and an ad for the Hong Kong Ballet (right) produced almost a year earlier. Photos via Instagram.

A Chinese washing machine manufacturer has come under fire for plagiarizing an ad campaign originally developed for the Hong Kong Ballet last year — ripping off the concept, and imagery, lock, stock, and round smoky portal.

The knockoff campaign, commissioned by the manufacturer Little Swan, is an image-for-image retread of the original — in some cases, right down to the backgrounds, which appear to have been digitally lifted out of the originals.

Pum Lefebure, the chief creative officer of Design Army, the firm that created the original campaign, appeared be keeping her sense of humor about the whole thing, noting on Instagram on Wednesday that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

However, speaking to Adweek, she said that there is a point where imitation crosses a line.

“It’s OK to be inspired,” Lefebure said. “It’s not OK to trace and copy and pull in stuff, then bill your client for the creative work you didn’t really do.”

At the time of this posting, the offending images appeared to have been removed from Little Swan’s official Sina Weibo account, and HK01 reports that the company issued a statement acknowledging the plagiarism and saying that the agency responsible had been disciplined.

In the offending shots, Little Swan was at least good enough to employ new actors to recreate the poses from the original ads. Parts of the backgrounds of some of the images, however, appear to have been digitally lifted straight out of the original shots (the floor and furniture from the Hong Kong restaurant in one, the smoky circular portal in another).

Little Swan’s intentions in recycling the Hong Kong Ballet campaign — which heralded the arrival of a new director — were also a bit of a head-scratcher.

While eye-popping shots of dancers in dynamically staged, acrobatic positions seem like a natural way to promote an art form that’s, well, dynamic and acrobatic, for washing machines, they don’t make a great deal of sense.

Little Swan’s efforts to shoehorn some washing machine-related content into the ads is mostly limited to a tiny picture of the appliance in the bottom corner of the frame, accompanied by some stilted marketing-ese made all the more confusing by what we assume are bad translations.  One blurb touting Little Swan’s “Water Cube Technology” declares that “Washing is not wound.” Another promoting steam-free ironing simply states, reassuringly, “Dry and dry.”

Commenters on Lefebure’s original Instagram post weren’t kind to Little Swan (which, for the record, is owned by Chinese electrical appliances giant Midea), calling the plagiarism, among other things, “disgusting” and “completely disrespectful”.

One netizen summed things up pretty nicely, saying, “‘Little swan’ y’all fake news.”

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