Is anyone at all embarrassed?

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Published : March 29, 2013
The Ford-JWT controversy might just lead to introspection on scam advertising, especially at Goafest, scheduled for next week. Whether that will change anything is the question.

Just as the dust settles on one issue, another comes along to whip it up again. First, a set of offensive Ford ads went viral. Then, JWT, the agency they came from, withdrew the ads from the upcoming Abby Awards. Soon after, Bobby Pawar, the creative leader of JWT, was asked to step down. Finally, Creativeland Asia's Raj Kurup announced his decision to step down from this year's Goafest jury and to stay away from all Indian award shows, events he insists are infested by scam.

Charles Victor

KV Sridhar

Ashish Khazanchi

Raj Nair

Emmanuel Upputuru

And scam is exactly what this saga brings us back to. While those in charge deal with the inevitable damage done to the credibility of Goafest, the big question is whether this eruption will do any damage to the well-established sub-culture dedicated to creating for-awards-only advertising. Will it lead to introspection?

While some creative experts feel that this chain of events will help shake the apathy towards scam advertising that has built up over the years, others believe it may compel the industry to review the way agencies perceive creative talent.

On the latter, Charles Victor, national creative director, Law & Kenneth, says, "We need to re-look the way we approach awards and evaluate creative people. The guy who sits in the corner of the office producing scam ads for 365 days a year gets applauded but what applause does the guy who works hard to build the brand get? Also, don't blame the guy who created the ad; blame the system that encourages people to produce such ads."

For KV Sridhar, this episode may take the industry back to the very definition of 'scam', a debated-to-death subject. "What is scam?" asks the chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, Indian subcontinent, "Ads entered in award shows without client approval? Ads made only for awards? Changing what the brand stands for just for an award?"

Some creative experts say no, this won't lead to any real introspection. Not that they're cynical; it's more a case of once-bitten-twice-shy. As Ashish Khazanchi, national creative director and vice-chairperson, Publicis Ambience, puts it, "These things have happened in the past. Probably not at the same scale but from the time Mohammed Khan pulled out of the awards to the most recent episode, controversy and awards have gone hand in hand. Things will go back to normal. It is tempting to think things will get cleaner but experience tells us otherwise."

Then there are those who fear this scam matter will be scrutinised for a few days only to blow over as the other issue, about who should've or shouldn't have taken the fall for this fiasco, starts. That leads to the second pertinent question: Why is the 'fall guy' a creative head and not a 'suit'? This particular case makes the creative fraternity emerge as the only award-hungry one, guilty of scam, while management -- at both, the agency and brand side -- gets a clean chit.

Some like Raj Nair are vocal about feeling cheated as a creative community. "In all of this, somehow, curiously unaffected are Colvyn Harris, the business head at JWT of Team Ford, the marketing head and the brand manager of Ford Figo. The agency creative folks have been deemed culpable, the agency suits and marketing folks, not. Should the latter also lose their jobs? I say this: the creative folks shouldn't have lost theirs, to begin with," voices the chief creative officer of BMB India.

Creative heads, who've raked in the awards for the networks they once belonged to before going solo, have a unique take on the matter. "The award game started to become dirty when the suits' bonuses were linked to award rankings," argues Emmanuel Upputuru, founder, ITSA, according to whom this is one of the reasons why creative talent gets tempted to move out of networks.

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