Ford apologizes for mock ad campaign; ad employees fired
Ford Motor Co. formally apologized Wednesday for a mock advertising campaign featuring pictures of three scantily-clad, bound-up women being driven around in one of its hatchbacks by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister.
The company's Indian advertising agency, JWT India, fired an undisclosed number of employees involved in the ads, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing chief, said Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show that the advertisements had been inappropriate and that the company was updating its review process, the Journal said.
The ads had drawn criticism from the public as well as the media with many finding them distasteful, especially in light of the current political climate in India where the government is trying to grapple with violence against women.
The ads, which were never part of an official campaign, were posted on the Internet. They are for the Ford Figo, which is sold in India.
The ad's tagline: "Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra-large boot," shows Berlusconi making the peace sign as he rides away with three women in the trunk, alluding to his escapades with young women.
Another mock ad shows Paris Hilton winking as she drives away with the Kardashian sisters, all of them gagged, tied and wearing revealing clothing.
One more ad shows Formula 1 race car driver Michael Schumacher driving with F1 champions Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton gagged and tied-up in the trunk.
According to Business Insider, a team from JWT India, which is Ford Figo's agency of record, created the ads and posted them online on the site Ads of the World without approval from Ford.
The Indian newspaper Economic Times reported that the ads have resulted in JWT and Ford being accused of "everything from endorsing rape culture to supporting the corrupt lifestyle of [Berlusconi]."
"We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened,” Ford said in a statement. “The posters are contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners."
"Together with our partners, we are reviewing approval and oversight processes to help ensure nothing like this ever happens again," the statement added.
WPP, JWT's parent company, issued a separate apology, saying that the caricature drawings were not part of a paid ad campaign.
"This was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight, and appropriate actions have been taken within the agency where they work to deal with the situation," WPP said.