JWT India Sacks Staffers Responsible for Sexually Offensive Ford Ads

Automaker Has No Plans to Ditch Agency Over the Mess

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The fallout from Ford's India ad uproar includes an apology from the automaker, the sacking of the ad agency staffers who created the offensive ad and a reassurance from Ford that it will not leave JWT or WPP over the PR crisis.

"The investigation over what happened is ongoing," Ford spokesman Chris Preuss told Ad Age. "Obviously, appropriate actions will be taken up to and including the dismissal of individuals who were found to be culpable."

Fake Ford ad from JWT India
Fake Ford ad from JWT India

The mess began several days ago when a series of sexually offensive ads created by JWT India showing women bound and gagged in the trunk of Ford Figo hatchback were uploaded to the website Ads of the World.

The ads were not approved by Ford but rather created by staffers at JWT India, which handles advertising for Ford in the country. Such ads, created without client approval, are often called "fake ads" or "scam ads" and are made by creatives seeking attention and looking for ways to bolster their portfolios. But the practice can spell bad news for both clients and agencies and the timing couldn't be worse for these ads to emerge out of the Indian market.

The controversial posters were uploaded for public view at a time when India is in crisis over sexual assaults on women. The brutal gang rape of a 23-year old student in New Delhi in December drew worldwide attention. The woman died from her injuries several weeks later. India recently approved a more stringent law to punish sex criminals.

One of the ads depicted reality TV star Paris Hilton with what appears to be Kim Kardashian and her two sisters tied up in the trunk of her car. The tagline: "Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra large boot."

Another showed Silvio Berlusconi, former Prime Minister of Italy, who was embroiled in a sex scandal of his own. In it, he's flashing a victory sign while three half-dressed women struggle against their bonds.

The swift dismissal of the JWT India employees responsible for the ads is a sign that the agency is trying to make good on the blunder.

When we asked if Ford will yank the business from JWT or parent company WPP or put its India ad account into review, Mr. Preuss said "no such action" has been contemplated.

He continued: "There's a deep partnership between WPP and Ford. Obviously, the issue was located in one place. It obviously happened with individuals who were acting outside of any normal oversight we have. This is a very, very serious matter and it's being handled as such. Right now, the actions are being dealt with at our local agency. Again, everybody is extremely unhappy and regretting this has happened."

For years, WPP has maintained an exclusive global partnership with Ford. In the U.S. Ford has its own agency under WPP to serve its needs, Team Detroit.

JWT said the "distasteful" posters "were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet." The disciplinary action, including dismissal of employees, were "necessary steps owing to the direct accountability of the concerned individuals as we work to ensure that both the right oversight and processes are strictly enforced so that this never happens again."

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