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Audi pulls new ad video, apologizing for copying blogger Douyin

Photo: Screenshot by Sina Weibo

FAW-Volkswagen Audi’s new advertising video on Chinese social media has been accused of copying an influencer Douyin. The video ad, featuring famous Hong Kong Chinese actor Andy Lau, caused a huge public outcry over the brand’s plagiarism.

On Saturday evening, a blogger with nearly 400 million subscribers on Chinese video platform Douyin named “Beida Mange [short as Mange]accused the brand, claiming that the script for his new video is actually “taken from an original poem” he composed on the same day in 2021.

“The poem was written by myself. Please ask for the original author when citing it,” Mange, a popular video influencer focused on educational content who graduated from Peking University, said on his Douyin account. Mange accused the brand of not properly communicating with him before using his poem for marketing purposes.

Audi apologized Sunday morning for the plagiarism, adding that the brand had removed the video from Chinese social media platforms and asked the companies involved to remedy the infringement.

The advertising video was produced and shot by London-based advertising agency m&c saatchi, which is in charge of Audi’s advertising activities in China.

The discussion heats up

Despite the brand’s emergency removal announcement this morning, the video has already garnered attention across social media where it has garnered over 5 million likes on Andy Lau’s Douyin account.

The outcry of disappointment over this luxury car brand topped the list on China’s Sina Weibo Twitter, which recorded nearly 100 million views midday on Sunday.

The video was meant to be an introduction to the traditional Chinese solar term Xiaoman (meaning grain buds), which falls around May 21 each year. This is an indication that cereal seeds are ready for harvest.

“I saw the video in 2021 [from Mange], and I watched the Audi video today. I was so excited at first that I thought there was cooperation between the blogger and the brand. But I didn’t expect the copycat, and that’s really disappointing for a car brand like this,” one Weibo user said.

What would Audi support?

“This case is about infringement of others’ copyright,” said Zhang Hongbo, general manager of the China Written Works Copyright Society, on Sunday.

According to the stipulations of the mandate contract, the copyright of the advertising films belongs to the advertiser, in this case Audi. Thus, the advertiser, Audi should bear legal responsibility for the infringement, including public apologies and financial compensation, Zhang said.

He noted that the advertisements are produced by ad companies commissioned by the advertiser. But if the advertisers did not know what materials are used by the advertising agencies, then Audi could pursue the liability of the advertising agency and recover the losses of the advertising agency according to the agency contract.

Audi should coordinate with the blogger on compensation issues and ask the blogger’s permission to indicate at the end of the ad video that they have obtained their permission, he added.

Apart from the legal issue, it is unclear whether the plagiarism scandal will cause any damage to product sales in the current most important market of this premium automaker in the future.

In fiscal year 2021, Audi achieved sales of approximately 1.14 billion euros in China, compared to 1.09 billion euros in 2020. It sold approximately 700,000 vehicles in mainland China during the period, again making China its largest single market in the world, data released by the company showed.