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JWT Entered Sexually Offensive Ford Ads in India's Top Awards Show Goafest

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JWT India entered the now-infamous Ford Figo poster ads in India's leading Goafest Abby ad awards, and tried to withdraw them last Friday in the middle of the judging after controversy erupted outside India over the sexually offensive ads.

The posters, showing women bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford Figo hatchback, drew international condemnation when they were uploaded to the website Ads of the World, and both JWT and Ford quickly apologized. Neither mentioned that the ads, including a letter of approval from the client, had been entered at Goafest by a senior JWT India executive.

Bobby Pawar
Bobby Pawar

Goafest official Shashi Sinha told Ad Age in an interview that the WPP owned shop called festival officials on Friday in an effort to remove the Ford Figo ads from the judging and followed up, as required, with a request in writing from the executive who had entered the work. That person was identified to them as Bobby Pawar, the chief creative officer and managing partner of JWT India.

Mr. Pawar, a well-known creative in India, is one of two executives JWT referred to but didn't name in an earlier statement saying "After a thorough internal review, we have taken appropriate disciplinary action with those involved, which included the exit of employees at JWT."

Mr. Pawar's LinkedIn profile states that he has been at JWT since January 2012, but has in the past held roles at the Indian offices of several major global agencies. He was previously chief creative officer of DDB Mudra Group, group creative director at Energy BBDO and senior partner and creative director at Ogilvy & Mather. He started his career at Ogilvy in 1995.

According to multiple executives familiar with the matter, Vijay Simha, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as "VP and senior creative director at Global Team Ford at JWT" was the other person who was fired. His resume includes stops at Grey Worldwide and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Not only has the Ford scandal been a ding to JWT India's reputation, it's also now leaving the agency without senior creative and account leadership, since these executives --and possibly others under the Blue Hive group at the shop that runs the carmaker's business-- must now be replaced. JWT India did not respond to a request for comment. Ford yesterday told Ad Age that despite the fake ad scandal, it will keep its relationship with JWT India intact.

Mr. Sinha went on to explain that it was because the festival received JWT's written request for withdrawal of the work that they were permitted to pull it, since judging was still in the early stages. Mr. Sinha, who oversees Goafest as president of India's Ad Club and chairperson of the 11-member Awards Governing Council. Mr. Sinha is also CEO of IPG Mediabrands in India.

Because the work was removed in the middle of the judging, it's unclear whether the Ford Figo ads made the shortlist. The work appeared to be properly entered, with proof that it had run and a client approval letter from Ford's CMO in India.

One of the fake ads
One of the fake ads

Mr. Sinha said the client approval letters for the three poster ads were very general ones, and didn't include a description of the ads, so Ford might not have been aware of the ads' content. "We can't figure out if he had seen the stuff," Mr. Sinha said. "It's a gray area." The print and outdoor categories are the easiest to enter fake work in, because it's not hard for an agency to run an ad once in an obscure local publication or poster site to obtain a tearsheet or a picture that makes it festival-eligible by fulfilling the letter if not the spirit of the entry rules.

"They're so hungry for the awards," Mr. Sinha said of creatives' propensity for creating fake ads.

So how did these ads get caught in the entry process? The point is that they usually don't.

Mr. Sinha explained that the Goafest Abby awards get about 5,000 entries "and they all come at the last minute." So accounting firm KPMG, which manages the judging process, does a more rigorous inspection of the entries that win awards. Mr. Sinha said that "back checking" involves sending the client company's CMO a jpeg of the prize-winning work to verify its authenticity.

But JWT withdrew the Ford ads before the final judging, he said. In fact, he said, JWT withdrew all the Ford work it had entered, not just the three Ford Figo poster ads. "I said 'these are offensive ads'," Mr. Sinha said of the Figo posters. "That's why they got caught. Otherwise they would have gone through the [awards] system."

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