Ford's thoughtful approach to marketing yields huge dividends. Its "Fiesta Movement" campaign, for example, remains the yardstick by which other social media forays are measured.
But that doesn't mean that Ford and its numerous agency partners are infallible. Sometimes, mistakes are made, leaving Ford to backtrack, as it's currently doing for a series of print pieces that made their way to the web last week.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The campaign is for the Ford Figo, a subcompact designed for the Indian market, where the country's growing middle class is fueling an auto boom. There are three posters in the series, each featuring famous figures in the driver's seat, with their competitors bound and gagged in the storage area. The text on all three ads reads, "Leave your worries behind. With Figo's extra-large boot."
In one, Paris Hilton is shown kidnapping fellow celebutantes, the Kardashian sisters. In another, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is depicted with Karima El Mahroug and other young women with whom he had extramarital affairs. And just to give the menfolk a jab, the third shows racing champ Michael Schumacher making off with rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso. (Scroll down to see all three.)
Let the record show: we're not humorless. We get the joke. And frankly, we wouldn't mind living in a world without many of these people -- Paris Hilton and Silvio Berlusconi included.
But in comedy, timing is everything, and these couldn't have appeared at a worse moment. Issues like sex trafficking and women's rights are huge concerns in India right now, in part because of a high-profile court case involving four men who allegedly gang raped and killed a woman on a bus in New Delhi. Having images of women bound and gagged linked to their product is not what Ford wants now (or ever).
In a statement acquired by NBC, Ford says, "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."
It's important to note that it doesn't appear the ads were ever used (a credit to JWT Delhi, which created them). Ford's global ad agency, WPP, said that the posters were "never intended for paid publication", which implies that they may have been crafted solely for internal use -- maybe as an in-office joke.
But joke or not, no one was laughing after the pics were uploaded to Ads of the World, a repository for both real and concept commercials. The images have since been taken down, but the credits remain on the site's RSS feed:
Advertising Agency: JWT Delhi, India
Creative Directors: Bobby Pawar, Vijay Simha Vellanki
Art Director: Supriya Berry
Copywriter: Binoy S. Sarkar
Illustrator: Nithin Rao Kumblekar
We agree with Ford that the ads are tasteless -- even if, as the creation date implies, they were drafted before the Indian media began focusing so much attention on women's rights and sex crimes.
However, we also understand that Ford doesn't control everything its agencies create, especially materials built for in-house use or as jokes. The important thing is that neither Ford nor WPP nor JWT authorized the ads for publication. And the speed at which Ford apologized is commendable.
Now we'd just like to know the fate of the creative team member who uploaded these three images to the web.