In an embarrassing reminder of the perils of creative license in an era of unprecedented transparency, Ford today had to apologize for a misogynistic set of online-only ads contemplated by its Ford of India unit and featuring the unlikely mashup of Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and Silvio Berlusconi.
The over-the-top visuals were created by JWT of India, which handles Ford advertising there, and were posted apparently for consumption by other professionals on a website called Ads of the World. The ads carry the tagline, “Leave your worries behind.” The existence of the ad prototypes was first pointed out by Business Insider, which called them “speculative renderings to show off” creativity.
In one drawing, Hilton is depicted in the front seat of a Ford Figo, with the Kardashian sisters bound and gagged in the rear and the hatchback open. A similar construction has former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi in the driver’s seat with a trio of crying women in the back—presumably a reference to charges that he has consorted with prostitutes. A third ad depicts Formula One driver Michael Schumacher abducting a male rival.[more]
Ford and the ad agency have removed the ads from the website, and both have issued apologies.
WPP Group, which oversees JWT India, said that the posters “were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP” and noted that the renderings “were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet. This was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight and appropriate actions have been taken within the agency where they work to deal with the situation.”
Ford said in an e-mail to Business Insider, “We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should never have happened” and vowed to ensure “nothing like this ever happens again.”
To some extent, the creation of the ideas per se behind the ads could be written off to the normal creative process inside agencies, and in the give-and-take with clients, where the line between an attention-getting treatment, one that pushes the envelope, and one that goes inappropriately over the line can be thin.
But in an era of nearly complete digital transparency, whether wanted or not, any execution can go viral in an instant. And that’s what happened to JWT and Ford.
The incident came in the wake of nationwide outrage in India over the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi in December, Bloomberg noted. That helps make the context sensitive even though, as Business Insider noted, India has a history of insensitive advertising that has Hitler, for instance, showing up often.
“This is a really perverse-looking campaign, especially with all the incidents against women in India,” Deepesh Rathore, New Delhi-based managing director for IHS Automotive in India, told Bloomberg. “The internet has the power to make a stupid thing go viral and so companies need to be very, very careful as such incidents can blemish your brand image.”
For Ford, the incident is especially salient because it has been promoting the notion of a global brand under its “Go Further” campaign since last spring. This looks more like an example of “Going Too Far.”