NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After initially lying about it, DDB Brasil now admits it created a video version of the Brazilian print ad "Tsunami," which has caused a scandal this week -- and entered both ads in the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in June.
Leading Brazilian trade publication Meio & Mensagem broke the news on its website today that both ads were entered at the Cannes festival by DDB Brasil. The entries in the press and film categories can be found online and included full credits for the work.
Previously DDB Brasil had said the print ad ran only once in Sao Paulo and was mistakenly entered in the One Show. An agency spokeswoman said neither the agency nor the client, the World Wildlife Fund in Brazil, authorized the video version, called "Planes," that surfaced on the internet this week showing multiple planes approaching Manhattan and the World Trade Center towers.
The episode is turning out to be an embarrassing one for DDB Brasil, one of the creative jewels of the Omnicom Group-owned DDB network. While the Sao Paulo-based agency has made several apologies, including one that takes over the agency's website, there hasn't been any public comment from Global CEO Chuck Brymer.
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Meio & Mensagem published links to both entries on the Cannes Lions site that named a dozen people, including DDB Brasil creatives and account supervisors, who were apparently involved in the ad, according to the entry information submitted by the agency. A production company and a sound-design company were also credited.
The description of the ad submitted by the agency said "We see two airplanes blowing up the WTC's Twin Towers...lettering reminds us that the tsunami killed 100 times more people. The film asks us to respect a planet that is brutally powerful."
The two ads, entered in the press and film categories, were apparently little noticed at Cannes, but the print ad "Tsunami" earned a Merit award, which ranks below a Bronze prize, from the One Club.
"The reality is that the ad met our conditions of how people submit work," said Kevin Swanepoel, president of the One Club. DDB Brasil submitted the ad in accordance to One Show protocol; it paid the submission fee and provided a tear sheet to verify the ad ran in a Portuguese-language newspaper.
Mr. Swanepoel said if One Show had rejected the ad, it would have raised censorship issues for the awards. "We can't be seen to throw out an ad that's been submitted to us because we don't like the content," he said. "It was legitimate, so we have to rely on our judges, who are an international panel of judges. We cannot police what agencies send in. We can't tell our jurors to not look at something, we have to stick by our rules."
The agency has since asked One Show to withdraw the ad, so it has been stripped of the Merit award and removed from the online awards gallery. "In our eyes it's no longer a winner," Mr. Swanepoel said.
The ad was one of more than 17,000 submissions this year and would have had to make it to the full-jury second round to receive enough points to earn a Merit award.
"This points to the fact that with an international jury, not everybody is as sensitive to this," Mr. Swanepoel said. "I'm not downplaying the sensitivity of it, but to someone in China, perhaps, it may not be as sensitive. They may have seen is as acceptable and given it a higher score." One Club judges contacted by Ad Age denied voting for "Tsunami."
"When I first saw the ad I was disgusted by it," said a One Show juror who did not wish to be named and claimed to be unaware that the ad had been selected to win a Merit award. "Perhaps American judges are much more affected by this disaster than judges from other countries," the juror said, noting that ads can receive low marks from a majority of the jury and still wind up receiving an honor. "But there really is no excuse for this, and if it was created to win an award then shame on them. It really puts a dark cloud over agencies that are trying to do cut-through work for the right reasons."
The "Tsunami" ad surfaced first on the blog Ads of the World, and DDB Brasil speculated that the blogger had picked it up from the One Show site. However, Ivan Raszl, who posted the work on the blog, said he'd received it as part of a DDB press release. The work was also sent to Ad Age this week by DDB Brasil's PR department, which regularly sends new work to journalists and apparently blasted out the WWF ad by mistake.
Meanwhile, the WWF-U.S. issued yet another statement, following a joint statement yesterday by WWF in Brazil and DDB Brasil apologizing for any offense caused by the ad.
"WWF Brazil has subsequently issued statements that have raised doubts about whether the ad concept was approved at some level within the WWF Brazil organization," the WWF-U.S. statement said. "We have now relaunched a renewed inquiry into the circumstance surrounding the creation of the ad. Additionally, we are using every resource at our disposal to remove these images everywhere they exist online because they are hurtful and disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 and their families."
As far as the Cannes entry goes, this year's film jury president David Lubars said that if the ad was indeed entered in Cannes, he personally "didn't see it."
"It must've been eliminated in the very first round, which the jury president doesn't participate in," said Mr. Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer of BBDO North America. "I assume it was eliminated either because it smacked of the worst kind of fakery or just its overall disgustingness."
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Rupal Parekh contributed to this report.