The story of the controversial Ford Figo campaign by JWT India
You must have heard by now about the Ford Figo ads by JWT India that created quite a commotion for a campaign that probably never run. Several people asked me what exactly happened, so I though I should write down the events from my perspective and my opinion about the campaign as well.
A few days ago the ads the Ford Figo ads were submitted to AotW by JWT India's creative team. It's not the first time I posted controvercial ads, will not be the last either. Advertising is always pushing the boundaries of what's socially acceptable.
The campaign was reblogged from dozens of sources within an hour mostly with a negative tone.
A day or so later the creatives sent me half a dozen emails asking to remove the ads. I did even though our rules specifically say that all ads must be approved by client and agency beforehad and we do not remove the ads. I only made an exceptions in this case because the situation seem to have threatened the jobs of the creatives.
But it was too late at this point. The use of politicians, celebrities, gagged sexy girl illustrations and the kidnapping situation screamed scandal. The media loved it.
Almost nobody took the campaign as a joke as it was intended to be. Humor is very different in various places.
I lived and worked in many places of the world. Sometimes what's funny in Asia comes off as crude and insensitive in the West as it happened in this case. And some Western jokes sound stupid and not funny at all in Asia. Australian black humor can be offensive to Americans. And the fart and burp jokes of America are just seem plain disgusting in Europe. People laugh hard if somebody stumbles in Asia, in other parts of the world people feel for the person.
I remember an awkward situation where an European friend of mine tried to tell jokes and I was struggling to translate the puns to a few Chinese guys. After the pun they were expecting the story to continue. There is nothing worse than explaining why a joke is funny.
I feel in India (and correct me if I'm wrong) the celebrities and politicians portrayed in the campaign are seen as only comical characters, not as integral players of the society. These same people are frequently made fun of in cartoons in major newspapers. The creatives and the management who approved the creative meant no harm. But there is a fine line that evidently the Indian creatives didn't feel well enough. In America the suggestion of sexual exploation with criminal intent and kidnapping is no laughing matter in any context. It's simply not acceptable. And, I agree with this sentiment too even if I understand where the creators were coming from.
The story blew up. A day or so later I saw that the campaign posted literally on hundreds of sites all over the world. Even TV stations including large ones like Fox news ran reporst on the story. At the same time I received emails from readers complaining about the fact that the ads are missing from AotW and accusing me of censoring material. I decided to email the JWT creative team back saying that since the work is now visible literally on hundreds of sites the removal from AotW serves no purpose anymore and therefore I put the creative back on the site.
Few hours later I got a call from JWT New York PR asking to remove the work yet again. I argued that the best course of action to mitigate the problem is to be honest about the situation. I suggested to keep the work on the site and make it clear that it's was not approved by Ford or JWT. But JWT insisted it had to removed to prevent any further damage. They also issued correcting statements to online publications. I complied with their request and I removed the campaign again.
Later I learned that the campaign was indeed approved by JWT management and in it was even submitted to an award show before it was sent to Ads of the World. In result of this whole fallout JWT swiftly removed creative head Bobby Pawar and also disassembled the creative team.
From the creative's perspective they were trying to create ads that stand out and people take notice, perhaps chuckle a bit. They surely didn't anticipate or wanted such worldwide reaction. I'm sorry to see their careers are affected in this way.
The agency had no choice in the matter. They had to do everything possible to convince their $2 billion Ford client that such a communication misstep would not be tolerated within the agency. And they did the right thing, they were on top of the issue and apologized immediately.
Ford will come out of this situation ok. The brand name Ford Figo has been mentioned in many places, the exposure can be measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars easily. People will forget the offensive nature of the ads and they will not blame Ford for it as it was reported as a fail from the agency's side.
The agency's reputation will not be harmed. People will only remember them for being mentioned in mainstream news. Scandals are how upcoming pop stars reach celebrity status. It works the same way for companies and brands too. If your essential product like in the case of JWT and Ford is good such events will not ruin you reputation only direct a bit of attention you way.
I frequently reject ads that are offensive in some way or another. Perhaps I should've bounced these ads this time as well. But it probably would not have made much difference as the campaign would've leaked to the media through the award show or another blog anyway. My consolation is that I have received dozens of emails from creatives over the years who thanked me for the publicity they got through Ads of the World as it contributed to their career in some significant way. Several students found jobs and seasoned creatives got promotions or job offers apparently as a direct consequence of their work being posted on Ads of the World.
What is the learning from all of this? The world is becoming increasingly smaller. If you post something publicly on the internet it can be replicated in a very short amount of time. Mass media picks up stories from social media and blogs. Once something is out it's impossible to contain it. Think twice about how your ad will be perceived in different cultures of the world. Turn this phenomena to your advantage. Do an ad that goes viral for a good reason.
'Stay hungry. Stay foolish.'