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A few weeks ago, Ford managed to accomplish a task that many brands dream about but never achieve… to have an ad go viral. You might think this is a good thing except for the fact that this particular ad went viral for all the wrong reasons.
JWT India, Ford’s ad agency in India, was holding an inter-company contest for ad creativity. One of the designers came up with an ad showing 3 women gagged and tied up in the trunk of a Ford Figo. The first concept showed Italian Prime Minister Silva Berlunsconi with three women and the second derivation (which seemed aimed for an American audience) showed Paris Hilton with the Kardashians tied up in the trunk.
Ford never commissioned, approved or even knew of their existence until they saw them where the world did… on the Internet. The ad agency decided to post the contest entries on the Internet for judging purposes and, as we all know, once its on the Internet, it never goes away.
Ford could’ve handled this many ways but they chose to handle it the way that all companies should -- by accepting responsibility.
The lesson to be learned here is to choose your partners wisely. JWT India had a track record of producing some tasteless and offensive ads in the past, which had resulted in the loss of some large American corporate accounts. Even though this was a contest within the company and these concept ads were never meant to see the light of day, the fact remains that they did.
You are responsible for anything that bears your branding regardless of whether you created it, authorized it or knew it existed. The consumer doesn’t know who authorized what or not, they simply see your branding and assume that it was company sanctioned. Your branding is your business’s most important asset.
When considering a partnership that would allow another entity to use your branding, be just as diligent in choosing that partner, as you would be in vetting a babysitter.