It was a matter of pure stupidity.
Ford was caught when a few black and Pakistani employees in the U.K., who had posed with white colleagues for the photo five years ago, saw a reprint of the shot in a new company brochure. They saw they'd been turned into white people. After complaints, Ford acknowledged that it, along with ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in London, had doctored the photo for an ad campaign in Poland.
Claiming there was "absolutely no racial motive," the company apologized, withdrew posters, scrapped thousands of copies of the booklet that featured the all-white group photo on its cover and paid $2,300 in compensation to four of the five workers involved (one left).
Some reports have Ford blaming O&M, some blaming the incident on "an administrative error." Bob Purkiss, national secretary for equalities for the Transport & General Workers' Union, isn't satisfied. He told an Advertising Age International reporter: "Irrespective of where they go, Ford is a multinational, multicultural, multiracial company. It is absolutely ridiculous. Ford is either a global company or it's not." He demands Ford take disciplinary action against those involved; Ford has refused.
Significantly, a separate, all-white photo was shot in and used in Spain, so why wasn't one taken specifically for Poland? Nobody paid any attention to the altered picture until it was used for the U.K. brochure this year.
This is not a question of marketing, of being politically correct or of being sensitive to cultural differences-although those issues are vitally important. It is a question of being lazy or cheap, and it turned out to be expensive in more than one way.
Separately, we said in last month's issue that we would announce the winners of the Olympics Peace Challenge this month. This is the contest Advertising Age launched last summer, asking members of the worldwide ad community to create public service print ads to promote 17 days of uninterrupted world peace during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Well, we got ahead of ourselves and instead, we will announce those winners closer to the Olympics.