Leo Burnett accused of plagiarism for Rubber Boy spot

Leo Burnett is being accused of plagiarism by Malaysian film-maker Tan Chui Mui for the emotional “Rubber Boy” spot. Tan is currently with Da Huang Pictures.

The Rubber Boy spot was created during Chinese New Year this year for clients Petronas by Leo Burnett and has over 3 million views to date.  The webfilm drew its inspiration from Malaysian values which is about counting blessings to inspire prosperity and happiness. ‘Rubber Boy’ revolves around the relationship between a mother and her son, capturing facets of their relationship.

In a Facebook post, Tan said that while the idea was pitched to the clients last year and was told that the idea was a great one, Petronas did not go with it. However, the idea later surfaced in the form of the Rubber Boy. She said:

"In our case, although we were told that the Petronas client like our script very much, Da Huang Pictures was not selected for Petronas Chinese New Year 2015. And we were fine with that [...]  Anyway, there was no Petronas CNY ad in 2015. In January 2016, we were quite shocked to see Rubber Boy."

Read her posts below:

In response to the post, Leo Burnett said it does not condone or endorse plagiarism of any kind.

Credit is always given, wherever it is deserved. The allegation that Rubber Boy is based on plagiarised material or script is incorrect.

A spokesperson added that the creative team at Leo Burnett that worked on Rubber Boy for the Petronas CNY short film stands by their version of how the Rubber Boy story was script and developed and the agency stands with them. She explained the spot was based on an idea that the internal pool of talent at Leo Burnett thought up.

 (Read also: Idea theft: Is the client of creative to be blamed?)

"As part of the creative journey from idea to shooting script, the client-approved script is shared with the prospective directors, and we guide them to evolve a treatment of our script. The purpose of this treatment is to add details and nuances to the script. Key elements such as the setting in the rubber estate and the character of the child and his motivations and circumstances, along with the key message, are always in the agency script that was briefed to all the directors involved," read a statement from the agency.

It also said that during this process, many suggestions are exchanged back and forth, and the treatment is evolved under the close guidance and supervision of the creative team.  The final decision is accorded to the treatment which best meets the agency's and the client's objectives.

"After this, we work closely with the chosen director, from the actual shoot to the post-production process, to ensure the best possible outcome. As such, we reiterate that the allegations of plagiarism are baseless. Nevertheless, we have reached out to the party making the allegations and await their response," the agency said.

Earlier this year, Dentsu Utama also faced similar allegations which led to the agency withdrawing from 4A's.