WPP Plc’s JWT India unit fired an undisclosed number of employees for their involvement in unauthorized “distasteful” advertisements for Ford Motor Co.’s Figo in India.
The ads, including a version depicting former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with three tied-up and gagged young women, were never requested by Ford, and were never intended for paid publication, JWT said in an e-mailed statement today.
“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 lapse comes in the wake of nationwide outrage across India over the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi in December. The incident also comes weeks after South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. and a dealer of General Motors Co.’s Buick unit had to apologize for posting on Chinese social media while alluding to an outcry over the murder of a two-month-old baby.
“It is an unfortunate incident, but Ford has been quick to react to this issue,” said Ammar Master, an analyst at LMC Automotive in Bangkok. “This was a positive step.”
Ford reiterated today its regret over the incident and said that it was reviewing approval and oversight processes to help ensure “nothing like this ever happens again.” Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally said yesterday in a Bloomberg TV interview that he doesn’t expect the automaker’s sales in India to be affected.
“The initial reaction is that people understand that it was not done by Ford,” said Mulally from Bangkok. “It’s also something to learn from to make sure that we do everything we can not to have an independent person do something like this and use the Ford brand and Logo.”
Ford will introduce its EcoSport compact SUV in India this year as part of plans to roll out eight new models by 2015. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker is investing almost $1 billion in a new factory in the western state of Gujarat that will be completed by 2014.
Deliveries have slumped 14 percent in the first 11 months of the year ending March, while industrywide passenger-vehicle sales gained 4 percent.
Last year, when tensions flared between China and Japan, Asia’s two largest economies, over a decades-long dispute over a group of islands, Volkswagen AG’s luxury Audi unit asked a Chinese dealer to remove a banner advocating the murder of Japanese people. On Audi’s Japan website, the company expressed regret for the incident.
The Economic Times earlier today reported JWT had asked Bobby Pawar, the chief creative officer and managing partner at the Indian unit, to resign. Pawar didn’t answer six calls to his mobile phone.
The other unauthorized ads included one featuring socialite Paris Hilton posing while entertainer Kim Kardashian and her sisters were tied up in the trunk.