Distasteful Advertising

Ford and WPP Group, together, find themselves in damage control mode.

An Indian subsidiary of JWT, Ford’s advertising agency, released some (not very good) advertisements that depicted women tied up in the boot of a car driven by ex Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Ford Ad

Ford Ad

“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency at JWT,” a company statement said.

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.

The perpetrators have now been fired, we learn.

So what does this episode tell us?

Staff and suppliers pose some of the biggest risks to hard won reputations – in this case the actions of a creative team within a subsidiary of one of Ford’s suppliers (one the world’s leading ad agencies).

As brands encourage ever more public and staff generated content, the potential for inappropriate content associated with their brands will increase.

In a well-disciplined organisation the risks posed by staff or supplier generated content can be mitigated but not prevented through management, culture, training and social media policies.

In the case of user generated content it is almost impossible to control and even apparently benign campaigns can backfire (Why I Shop At Waitrose).

Once an issue has erupted decisive action is required to identify, analyse, address, explain and repair any damage that may have been done.

This is a particular challenge for those involved in the production of content. The core business of advertising agencies, TV companies, newspapers and magazines is to produce and distribute content, and particularly content that generates attention.

Lessons?  Robust reputation risk planning is a must – with the people and processes in place to deal swiftly with an uproar that might occur.   Then again the most effective form of damage control is prevention.

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