Andy Lau is one of Greater China’s most celebrated and distinguished actors, singer-songwriters and film producers. The 60-year old Hong Konger has acted in more than 160 films, while maintaining a successful singing career. Hundreds of awards have borne his name – more than any other male Cantopop star.
Lau has avoided much of the recent scandals plaguing many of China’s celebs. He married in 2008, became a dad in 2012 and is a devout buddhist and vegetarian. He established a charitable foundation in 1994 to help people in need and promote a wide range of education services and has been globally-recognised for his philanthropy. In 2008, he led a fundraiser concert in Hong Kong to raise money for victims of the Sichuan earthquake that year. Just this month, he garnered over 3.6 million likes and 1 million comments after posting a video of himself cleaning his home dressed in a plain T-shirt and sweatpants. In short, Andy Lau is the type of authentic and esteemed A-lister that many brands would want endorsing their brand in China.
Andy Lau was front in centre of Audi’s campaign which launched late last week, filming him sitting in the back seat of an Audi discussing the eighth of 24 solar terms, Xiaoman. In the Chinese lunar calendar, Xiaoman marks the time when summer gradually becomes the dominant season, and the grains are about to ripen. In traditional Chinese culture, some believe that it represents the best stage of life of the solar terms, meaning one can pursue their way to perfection and fullness. Following Andy’s Xiaoman address, the viewer is introduced to the Audi and driving it to pursue fullness.
The ad had all the makings of a well-executed campaign, closely aligned with Audi’s desired positioning – except for one thing – Andy’s monologue was a blatant rip off from popular vlogger Beida Mange’s post from 2021. Beida detailed the plagiarism in a seven minute video to his 3.7 million followers on Douyin. It noted how themes were copied from his post including “an original poem,” outlining specific word-for-word plagiarism peppered throughout the Audi ad.
China’s Internet was set alight with the evidence, with half of the top-10 hot topics on Weibo on Sunday related to the scandal. The hashtag #奥迪小满广告抄袭 (#AudiXiaomanAdPlagiarism) earned 520 million views and 44,000 comments on Weibo. Audi’s apology hashtag drew another 320 million views and #AudiAndyLau clocked 150 million, in addition to the fervent spread on WeChat and Douyin.
Audi have a solid crisis management plan and was quick to remove the video and apologise for the plagiarism. Lau appeared to be a little embarrassed. In reality, it was the agency who developed the campaign, M&C Saatchi, who is largely at fault. There is an expectation that creative agencies will create original works – or at least, not blatantly rip off someone else’s originals. Audi blamed the infringement on ‘lack of supervision and lax review.’
Whilst it has never been more important for brands to do due diligence before investing in celebrity and KOL endorsers – both checking their character and whether they align with Beijing’s directives – it is much more difficult to probe individual creatives in agencies. M&C Saatchi’s director who created the Audi ad, Peng Yangjun, was highly regarded. He rose to fame in 2014 after photographing China’s “face-kini” craze, and has since directed a number of large ads, including a BMW ad last year which is now also being scrutinised for plagiarism.
Although Audi has egg on its face, most Chinese consumers won’t punish the brand too much once the dust settles. Greater China is still likely to account for over 40% of its global sales. The exposure for the Audi in the video has been significant, with more than 5 million likes of the video on Andy Lau’s Douyin account alone. Beida Mange, who claims to have made the original content, has also seen a jump in profile.
With so much creative content now on Douyin (or Tiktok in other markets), the very nature of video content makes it harder to check for copycats. Plagiarism from video platforms will be something we need to increasingly watch for. One positive from the scandal is how Chinese consumers are decreasingly tolerant of IP theft.
For brands, there are precautions you can take to decrease the likelihood of similar incidents happening. At China Skinny, when we provide creative direction, we use our own broad knowledge of China and other markets, supported by our tools and methodologies, to test for themes that may appear too similar to other content. Our consumer research to test concepts pre-launch often also captures issues and saves costly embarrassments down the line.
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