Malaysian creative directors react to "Rubber Boy" plagiarism allegations

The director of Rubber boy, Ismail Kamarul has finally spoken up on the recent incident where Leo Burnett Malaysia faced plagiarism charges by Malaysian film-maker Tan Chui Mui for the popular Petronas CNY spot.

On a Facebook post published on Tuesday evening, Kamarul launched his own defence over the effort and work put into the film which was nominated for this year’s Cannes Lions festival under the Craft Section for Best Script in France.

According to Kamarul when he received the agency’s script in 2016, it was not called Rubber boy but "Stolen Toy". However, since the clients thought the initial script which involved a stealing scene was too negative, the spot evolved to Rubber Boy - a title given by Kamarul himself. He added the dialogues had been re-written numerous times before arriving at its final version.

Read his full statement below:

Meanwhile, Leo Burnett’s business director, creative director and CEO have publicly refuted the allegations.

A+M asked several Malaysian creative veterans what their view was.

Former Dentsu Malaysia CEO and creative lead, SP Lee, said it is really hard to pin-point who really came up with the idea and it seems as though there was a fair bit of back and forth when conceptualising the piece. The idea he added, is not an immensely unique one but can be seen as a shared identity.

It is not like an Old Spice or a Volvo Epic Split spot which is completely new and unthinkable by two different people.

Lee added that these accusations of "idea theft" do happen and the Cannes Lion nomination probably had a part to play in shoving the situation to the forefront and getting the conversation stated.

Meanwhile, Alvin Teoh, ECD of NagaDDB said the issue is a learning point for the industry.

“I think it is a grey area and I’ve read both sides of the stories and I think everybody wants to do the right things and hard for outsiders to judge. So I don’t want to make a judgement,” Teoh said.

He added this is great opportunity to have a conversation started on a pertinent issue. What both parties need to do, he added, is iron out the issue and share their learning with the industry for the industry to really grow.

Both sides of the story have their own points. For plagiarism to happen, the person needs to do it willfully and with eyes wide open.

"In this case, the members of the public will never know if that happened,” he said adding that there is a big difference between plagiarism and coincidence.

He added that on a daily basis, creatives expose themselves to stories and inspirations and as such it is difficult to be completely original.

"People have ideas which are similar. Is that plagiarism? The work we expose ourselves to will influence us somehow and this guides the way we think. Sometimes what we deem to be original has roots in other inspirations and if we can’t evolve far enough, then the similarities will remain," he said.

Meanwhile, film maker Tan also responded to Karamul’s post by referring him as “the film director of Rubber Boy” and complimenting, “I think he did a good job for the commercial.” She added that it was not "his fault if Leo Burnett did not inform him that they were using my story.”

She also later published a blog post on her Facebook notes titled "Recalling and Recounting #LeoBurnettPlagiarism," detailing her own account on this whole saga and apologised to her readers describing the ‪#‎LeoBurnettPlagiarism as exhausting.


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.