Ford CMO Jim Farley Apologizes for Offensive India Ads

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Ford CMO Jim Farley would rather have been talking about anything else at the kickoff media breakfast at the New York International Auto Show today, but first he had some ‘splaining to do. Or, at least, apologizing.

He said Ford was sorry for the advertising renderings by the JWT of India agency that appeared online several days ago cartoonishly depicting celebrities abducting people but at the same time, distanced both his brand and the agency from the offending images. The images never came close to being used in official Ford advertising.

“All of us at Ford and JWT were as shocked as you were,” Farley said today, according to USA Today. “We are extremely sorry about the incident … It is not acceptable.”[more]

Farley added, according to the newspaper, “Please know that we have taken swift actions. We have updated, of course, all of our review processes.”

The would-be adds appeared on Ads of the World website depicting Paris Hilton with the bound Kardashian sisters in the hatch of a Ford Figo. Similarly, race car driver Michael Schumacher was depicted having “abducted” a male rival, and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi—whose name has been scandalously associated with prostitution—was depicted as having abducted three women.

While over-the-top ads aren’t uncommon in Indian advertising, there is particular sensitivity these days to depiction of violence against women, in part because of a recent fatal gang rape of a student on a bus and the subsequent passage of a new law concerning the problem.

At the same time, the incident has to unnerve Ford marketers because the company has been investing heavily in the notion that it is “One Ford” and is in the middle of a global integration of its brand under the new “Go Further” positioning. USA Today reported that several workers had been fired in the wake of the India ads, but it isn’t clear how Farley will prevent such one-offs from occurring again as the brand aspires to greater worldwide reach.

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