Prasoon Joshi clears the air on the Hanes controversy

By , agencyfaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 22, 2008
In response to a report carried by The Economic Times on April 21, Prasoon Joshi of McCann-Erickson makes his stance clear on the controversy surrounding one of McCann's brands, Hanes

It's raining & #BANNER1 & # controversies in the Indian ad industry, and this time, the needle is pointing to McCann-Erickson. A report in The Economic Times on April 21 carried the news about McCann India producing a campaign for Hanes (an innerwear brand - one of McCann's clients) and releasing it apparently without client knowledge or approval.

The campaign in question shows a man dragging 'offensive' images and racist words associated with the gay, African-American and Southeast Asian communities (the ads appeared in the Free Press Journal in December 2007). The campaign has ruffled feathers at Hanes and IPG globally, and met with disapproval from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Apparently, the ad was posted on a few websites and blogs, and GLAAD got to notice it.

An ad from the Hanes campaign
agencyfaqs!, in an email interview with Prasoon Joshi, McCann-Erickson's executive chairman, India, and regional executive creative director, Asia Pacific, sought out McCann's point of view on the controversy. Excerpts:

agencyfaqs!: We're sure you have been inundated with queries on the ET report on Hanes. To quote you from the story: "Our regular ads are incapable of making it big internationally. Hence, all agencies stoop to one-off advertising. This is the normal practice across the entire Asia-Pacific region." What exactly did you mean by this? Is it a case of all agencies doing this, and only some getting noticed for it?

Prasoon: I have been quoted out of context in The Economic Times.

What I meant was a lot of our mainstream work, due to cultural sensibilities, does not easily get decoded on the international platform. And there have been instances in the industry of proactive, one-off niche work which caters to a more global sensibility.

Prasoon Joshi
That was my point and I stand by it.

agencyfaqs! : In the ET story, you seem to have attributed the Hanes controversy to Akshay Kapnadak, the creative head who worked on the ads. As this kind of action has caused great grievances for McCann in India and abroad, are you planning on taking any action against Akshay? What will be your next move?

Prasoon: This assumption of attribution is incorrect. I would urge that any individual's name and in particular this gentleman's is not pulled into this. He is not responsible for creating or posting these ads and his name should not be dragged into this.

There was a system slack and certain processes were not followed, resulting in the current circumstance. There were no intentions to hurt the sentiments of any community. I take full moral responsibility for the situation at hand and have already rendered my apology to those concerned.

We are looking into the details of the issue and simultaneously further tightening procedures and taking corresponding action.

agencyfaqs! : Would you say that general work tends to not win abroad, leading to frustrated creative directors seeking the limelight through such means?

Prasoon: As I have said earlier, the basic question is that of varying sensibilities. A lot of our mass work (with exceptions such as Fevicol or Happydent), which is hugely successful in the country, may or may not be appreciated to that level in an international arena.

Creative people are not frustrated. They are talented individuals who seek to express themselves and do justice to their craft. Desiring recognition and accolades from one's peer group is not an unnatural phenomenon in any industry, so let us not demean our own fraternity.

Having said that, there's a large responsibility at hand; plus, there are certain criteria and parameters, within which one has to work.

I have in the recent past expressed that a larger discussion amongst key industry stakeholders is required on the need to increasingly sensitise international bodies to our mass sensibilities and develop a consensus on a national level on what kind of work we want to promote and give accolades to.

agencyfaqs! : Would you, as an industry icon, frown upon using a client's brand name on an ad without giving him prior notice?

Prasoon: Yes. In no uncertain terms.