The Ford Figo Fiasco

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Ford Apologizes for being Gazopted – The Ford Figo India Ads

By Karen Masullo, EVP Social Media Risk, Firestorm

Executives at Ford were as shocked as the public when distasteful ad mockups featuring the Ford brand were posted on the Internet, and quickly went viral.

According to a report by the AP, “The Indian unit of Ford Motor Co. has apologized for advertisements decried as demeaning to women, including one depicting Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with a trio of bound women in the trunk of a car.”


“A Ford India spokeswoman said Monday that the company is investigating whether anyone at the automaker ever saw the print ads, which were never used commercially but appeared over the March 24th weekend on a website showcasing creative advertising.”

Ford’s India Ad agency, WPP Plc (WPP)’s JWT (J. Walter Thompson) India unit fired an undisclosed number of employees for their involvement in unauthorized “distasteful” advertisements for Ford Motor Co.’s Figo in India.

WPP is the world’s largest communications services group, employing 165,000 people working in 3,000 offices in 110 countries.

“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency at JWT,” the agency said in its statement. “After a thorough internal review, we have taken appropriate disciplinary action with those involved, which included the exit of employees at JWT.”

The ads were uploaded to an industry Web site, Ads of the World, and, according to a post on the Web site of the trade publication Advertising Age, also entered in an Indian advertising awards competition. They were subsequently withdrawn from both outlets after scathing comments about the poster ads began appearing in social media.

The table below indicates the immediate drop in WPP stock following the incident.

WPP Stock chart March

According to the adage article, “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.”

Ford Figo QuoteOne commenter on the adage article voiced a common concern: “Agencies have been winking at the practice of creatives who produce and disseminate “fake ads” for too long. The practice serves no one except the egos of the creatives who use their clients’ brands as a non-consenting vessel for their own self-indulgence.”

“Clients should recognize that these “fake ads” are an indication that they have entrusted the care of their brand with an agency and with people who do not seem to respect or value that trust, and they should respond accordingly.”

As detailed in a NYT mediadecoder blog post, “The rogue nature of spec ads was underlined by the statement from JWT, which said the ad posters “did not go through the normal review and oversight process” at JWT India.  The Internet and social media have made it far easier for unauthorized ads to be seen more widely, beyond the agency employees who create them and the judges of the awards shows in which the ads may be entered.”

Ford issued a statement to CNBC apologizing for the ads:

“We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened. 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.”

Ford’s ad agency WPP also issued a mea culpa:

“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP Group. These posters were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the Internet. 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.”

This particular example highlights the need for an increased level of monitoring for all companies, whether the company actively engages in social media or not.  While the practice of “fake ads” has been occurring for a very long time, the potential for them to go viral within minutes has not. 

Monitoring is the process that keeps you on top of what others are saying about your organization, your brand, your results; it alerts you to on-line customer requests and comments, and when on-line responses are expected in return. It keeps you informed of relevant industry discussions, data, and opportunities; it positions you to track your competitors, or learn what your employees are saying to one another about your organization and clients.

Most important, it allows you to become aware of and respond to brand attacks as quickly as the attack occurs.

The effort to manage a solid Social Media program can be time-consuming and challenging. As a result, a broad range of measurement and analytic tools and services have evolved to meet the needs of Social Media Management (SMM). Firestorm’s partner in this area is uberVu.

Monitoring tools may measure your social media “reach” and the growth or shrinkage of your audience. At Firestorm, we measure more complex metrics such as how often content has been viewed or redistributed, audience demographics, user sentiment, and significant spikes in activity that may alert an actionable trend. Our tool also allows the publishing of content to – and management of – multiple accounts, accessed by multiple team members. We track, measure and allow customized searches of the broad reach of a brand across multiple social platforms including competitor analyses, and the ability to focus in on, engage in, and measure the effectiveness of very specific conversations and activities. For risk management, this broader level of monitoring, and immediacy of ability to respond and control is critical.

If you would like to learn more about monitoring, see a demo, or just discuss best practices as they relate to your company or organization, contact us.

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