The lawsuits stem from the airing, on Super Bowl XXXIII last January, of a Just For Feet commercial that featured white hunters tracking down a barefoot Kenyan runner and forcing him to wear a particular shoe. Our own Ad Reviewer, Bob Garfield, called it ". . . neo-colonialist. And culturally imperialist. And probably racist. And certainly condescending." It earned his designation as the worst TV spot on the big game. But it was more than that, it seems. It now has the potential to be a dangerous legal precedent for advertising.
The retailer's CEO, Harold Ruttenberg, claims in news reports that he was browbeaten by the agency into running the spot, even though he personally disliked it. Disliked it? How could he have paused even 10 seconds before disapproving the idea and preventing it from being shot? It was to carry the brand of the company he's charged with running, of which he is chief executive-the individual who signs the checks and makes the decisions.
Since the situation gained attention, some executives seem to have sided with Just For Feet. They say the production and airing of the spot was the fault of, in the words of one individual, "the juggernaut we call creative." The agency's creatives certainly deserve derision for presenting the idea, and the agency's CEO for carrying it forward, even with client approval. But therein lies the key term: Client approval.
Maybe fault does indeed lie at the agency, but responsibility for Just For Feet advertising-and all corporate decisions and actions-lies squarely at Mr. Ruttenberg's feet, and at the feet of the professionals who work for and with him at the retailer's headquarters (and, also, we must mention, with Fox Broadcasting executives, who have the responsibility to reject ads they deem unsuitable for airing.)
In May, this publication carried a photo of Mr. Ruttenberg, taken at a seminar he attended called the Build Brand Value CEO Forum. His company, and the entire advertising industry, would be better off today if he had participated in such a