Ford has found itself in hot water over the past few days for the fake ads produced by JWT India employees, but meanwhile, there are heaps of examples of snarky spec work for big marketers like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Gap and Pizza Hut that are being celebrated by a U.K.-based awards show.
Called the Chip Shop Awards, they exist solely to highlight crude ads that have been rejected -- or, in most cases, created entirely without the knowledge of marketers. Take one look at the site for the awards show, which has been around for years largely under the radar, and it's clear that Ford is far from the only marketer that's a potential victim of scam ads.
It's easy to understand why the Ford Figo ads uploaded last week to industry site Ads of the World created an uproar and were viewed as offensive towards women: They depicted Silvio Berlusconi with Paris Hilton thrown in the trunk of the car, and the Kardashian sisters bound and gagged. The ads' escape into the wider media world --due to be posted on a website and entered into a major Indian awards show-- caused trouble for the marketer, elicited formal apologies from Ford and JWT India and resulted in the firing of JWT creatives responsible for the work.
But it is debatable whether the ads on the "Chip Shop" site are worse.
Take for instance an ad touted on the site for "Holocrust Pizza" by "Pizza Hut Auschwitz" -- which was submitted under the category "The Best Use of Bad Taste." Bad taste is an understatement.
In another category, "Best Work for any Brand You Haven't a Hope of Winning" is an entry for "Cocka Cola, A'Penis," which shows a silhouette of a man holding a Coke bottle up to his crotch, juxtaposed against Coke's tagline "Open Happiness."
Some creatives argue that these sorts of renderings are merely parodies or juvenile comics. But the problem here is that brands are not only being mentioned, their actual trademarks, logos, taglines and corporate identities are being utilized in the process. What's more, marketers are mostly oblivious to these creations, some of which are made by freelancers and others which are affiliated with genuine agencies. Until, of course, someone mistakes such work for a real ad and it leads to a media firestorm.
Said a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, when we brought the offensive spec ad to her attention: "This was the first we had heard of these 'awards.' Certainly, this ad was not produced by or for the Coca-Cola Company. Our brands and our trademarks are our most valuable intellectual property and we do not sanction any unauthorized use of them." A representative for the awards show did not respond by press time to a request for comment.
In this context, it's easy to see how the Ford debacle happened.
The fact is that unsanctioned ads are regularly churned out, implicating some of the biggest marketers in the world. They're usually confined to little-read blogs or the portfolios of creatives. It's only once in a while -- like in the case of JWT India and Ford Figo -- that they penetrate pop culture and ricochet around the internet.
The last major instance of this happening was a shocking fake ad for the World Wildlife Fund in 2009 out of DDB Brasil; it portrayed numerous planes flying at an image of the World Trade Center. That ad won attention because it had been entered into award shows. Scam ads have been a problem plaguing the industry for decades and after doing little to stop them, Cannes International Festival of Creativity and others have cracked down and threatened to yank awards and bar creatives who have been found guilty of entering unsanctioned work, or work that is run once locally merely to send into an awards show.
Yet it's clear that despite all the talk of wrist-slapping, fake ads remain a persistent problem. The question is, should the ad business be promoting this activity in the name of creativity, as Chip Shop describes it, "with no limits?"
Contributing: Natalie Zmuda