WWF, DDB Show There's No Hiding Place in Digital World

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Agencies and marketers need to learn what even the most dimwitted college seniors are now being told: If you're going to share stupid behavior with any small part of the world, you'd better be ready to share it with the entire world.

Even as we continue to unravel the mystery of the horribly insensitive (and just plain bad) ad effort from WWF Brasil and DDB Brasil, one question stands out. And you'll have to excuse the strong language. What the hell were they thinking?

While some are venting outrage at award shows for not ferreting out "cheaters," the responsibility for this work rests with the World Wildlife Fund and DDB, not a handful of judges sifting through piles and piles of award entries. (Their biggest fault is rewarding shoddy, logically flawed, insensitive work, not failing to detect what may or may not be a "fake" ad.)

What were agency and client thinking when they created an ad solely for an award show? That, hey, everyone else has done it at some time or other, so screw ethics and simple honesty? What were agency and client thinking when they approved such an insensitive ad? Perhaps they felt that using two horribly tragic events (Sept. 11 and the tsunamis) was a smart way to create something "edgy."

Did they think they would never be found out? Did they completely ignore recent examples of local ads going global -- Burger King, Absolut, Microsoft -- because someone somewhere found it offensive? Finally, does either WWF or DDB believe that anyone in the industry thinks this was the result of "the inexperience of some professionals on both sides"?

Sadly, this sort of behavior has been the mark of experienced "professionals" for some time in this industry, whether it be to win awards or just flex creative muscles. It used to be that such experiments went unseen. No longer.

The fact of the matter is a one-off print ad in Sao Paulo is no longer just a one-off print ad in Sao Paulo. It's going to be seen eventually. Then again, that the ad was entered in award shows doesn't exactly indicate a sense of shame on the part of anyone involved.

And for those inclined to take something positive out of this? Consider the following: If the digital world can transform a horrible one-off print ad into a global phenomenon, it can do the same for smart, powerful, real work as well.

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