Ashwini Gangal and Satrajit Sen
Points of View

POV: Case of the Digital Oops!

Ford Motor Company was forced to apologise for a series of offensive ads - three of them - that were leaked online. How does one deal with a digital fire?

POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
Ford Motor Company was forced to apologise for a series of offensive ads - three of them - that were leaked online, recently. Ford India's agency, JWT India, created the ad and posted it online on the website, Ads of the World, apparently without official approval. It has since been removed and was never formally aired.

However, the damage has been done, as both the brand and the agency have faced scathing criticism on social media since late last week. In this context, afaqs! asked some senior people what brands could do in this kind of situation: try to tackle negative word of mouth or just lie still till the storm passes?

Lakshmipathy Bhat, director, CodeConclave

It's obviously a creation of an over-eager creative team that is seeking some 'recognition' of its creative talent. Given the backlash in global media, I think, creative teams will be more cautious about creating such unsolicited, unapproved campaigns. Big agencies are already wary of scam ads (thanks to past experiences) and this will only get them to double down on strict processes.

However, ad blogs, which simply showcase creative work and have no means of verifying whether an ad is genuine, will continue to make it easy for creative teams to submit such work. And the pass-along effect of social media will make it tougher to completely remove them from the web. I too, have had requests from agencies to take down blog posts, where I showcased, apparently, unauthorised work. As they say, there is no delete button on the net.

Naresh Gupta, managing partner and chief strategy officer, Bang in the Middle

There are two issues here, one smaller, one larger, and both are important.

POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
POV: Case of the Digital Oops!
First is creative per se, and that is the smaller point. These posters are in bad taste, cross levels of decency and actually, mock at us. These ads are not humorous at all, they are offensive and in terrible taste. The ads also make the brand susceptible to strong legal cases. Imagine what would happen if all the celebrities in the ad decide to sue Ford for saying what they said! Even if the intention is to be in news by creating controversy, this is way beyond controversy.

Second is the ethical issue and this is a bigger matter. Both client and the agency have disowned the ads. The client says the ads were never approved, the agency says the ads should not have been uploaded. The issue is, when the work is rejected, who owns it? The creative blokes or the agency? I believe the agency owns it. And, by uploading them on AOTW (, the agency blokes have violated the IPR. This is an issue that agencies need to address quickly and efficiently or more such 'accidents' will happen.

Prasanth Mohanachandran, founder and CEO, AgencyDigi

All in all, these are brilliantly done illustrations and the production quality is brilliant. I think, the biggest effect of this ad, if released, wouldn't have been in India. Rather Italy is a big market for Ford and using Silvio Berlusconi in the ad would invite trouble. Moreover, I think, it is the use of this political figure in the ad that bothered Ford and not the use of other celebrities.

As an agency, when you are working on a global account, you need to understand the market the brand is operating in and, thus, act accordingly. In this case, Ford should fire JWT as its agency or, at least, the one who provided the idea. The illustrator is a damn good one and he or she needs to be retained.

Narendra Nag, social media co-lead, MSLGROUP India

Here, social media is not the problem. The problem is the bad creative of the ad. When the ad itself is screwed up, people will undoubtedly speak about it. Social media is just a medium here. There is nothing like brands will have to learn to live with negative word of mouth on being generated through social. When a brand does something commendable, they get the deserved applause on social media too.

In this case, I feel, both the brand and the agency have done what they needed to do. It was a mistake and both of the entities involved have issued apologies about it. There is nothing much left for the agency and the brand to further lessen the damage made. Probably, both take it as a lesson learnt and move ahead.

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