Sergio Valente, president of DDB Brasil, said the ad was presented to the WWF in Brazil in December 2008 and approved; it then ran once in a small local paper.
"When I saw it, I said, 'Stop running that ad,'" Mr. Valente said.
'Worst Person in the World'
Running an ad once is often a tactic to make it awards-show-eligible, and "Tsunami" somehow ended up among a bunch of the agency's submissions to this year's One Show in New York. Mr. Valente said that an American blogger apparently unearthed the ad in the One Show's online archive and posted it on his blog.
The ad ricocheted around the blogosphere, garnering horrified and often vicious posts, tweets and comments, and it landed the agency on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show as the villain of his "Worst Person in the World" segment.
After the WWF appeared to initially deny approving the ad, DDB Brasil and the WWF hammered out a statement posted in Portuguese on both groups' Brazilian websites Wednesday afternoon apologizing for the ad and attributing it to "the inexperience of some professionals on both sides, and not bad faith or disrespect toward American suffering."
The statement continued, "WWF-Brasil and DDB Brasil reaffirm that the ad never should have been created, approved or run. They deeply regret that this happened, and apologize to everyone who has been offended."
DDB Brasil has been the WWF's local agency in Brazil for the past three years and has won numerous creative awards for its work for the conservation group. The agency was also named Agency of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in June for winning more Lions than any other agency.
In a separate mishap in a bad week for DDB Brasil, "Tsunami" accidentally ended up in a folder for work to be sent to journalists by the agency's public-relations department and was mistakenly sent to Ad Age sibling Creativity this week as though it were a new print ad. It was described in the e-mail as "a great campaign."
A DDB Brasil spokesperson in Sao Paulo said a video version of the ad being circulated on the internet was not done or authorized by the agency or the client. She said DDB execs first saw the video, which features slightly different copy, on the internet and don't know who created it.