Ford Apologizes After Mock Ads of Berlusconi Tying Up Women

Ford Motor Co. and a WPP Plc unit apologized over unauthorized ads for the Figo in India, including a version depicting former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tying up and gagging three young women.

“We deeply regret this incident,” Ford’s India unit said in an e-mail. “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.”

Neither Ford nor its advertising agent would comment on details of the incident. WPP’s JWT India created the caricatures and posted them on Ads of the World -- a website that archives ads -- which have since been deleted and weren’t used commercially, the Hindu newspaper reported March 23.

The ads featured a celebrity -- one version included socialite Paris Hilton -- posing after tying up three people and fitting them in the trunk of a Ford Figo.

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.

“This is a really perverse-looking campaign, especially with all the incidents against women in India,” said Deepesh Rathore, New Delhi-based managing director for IHS Automotive in India. “The Internet has the power to make a stupid thing go viral and so companies need to be very, very careful as such incidents can blemish your brand image.”

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.