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JWT gives marching orders to Bobby Pawar over Ford Figo ads

Vijay Simha Vellanki, Creative Director, Blue Hive, a WPP unit dedicated to managing the Ford business, was also axed. But what about the fact that there were others from the agency and client side who were party to these ads being sent in as entries for the Creative Abbys?

Kalyan Kar | Delhi | March 27, 2013

Bobby Pawar

At the end of the day, the international outrage and the stench from the contentious Ford Figo ads proved overpowering for JWT India. Heads had to roll to cap the damage. In a late evening development yesterday, the JWT India management gave marching orders to Bobby Pawar, Chief Creative Officer & Managing Partner, JWT India, and Vijay Simha Vellanki, Creative Director, Blue Hive, a WPP unit dedicated to managing the Ford business. Both were told to put in their papers.

In a precursor of things to come, JWT had earlier in the evening issued an updated statement saying: “We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency at JWT. These were never intended for paid publication, were never requested by our Ford client and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet. These posters were created by individuals within the agency and did not go through the normal review and oversight process. After a thorough internal review, we have taken appropriate disciplinary action with those involved, which included the exit of employees at JWT. These were necessary steps owing to the direct accountability of the concerned individuals as we work to ensure that both the right oversight and processes are strictly enforced so that this never happens again.”

Pawar had joined JWT in January 2011, moving from Mudra. His brief was to shore up the creative department of JWT, India’s largest agency, which was bereft of top-of-the-class creative leadership after Agnello Dias had parted ways as NCD to set up Taproot India.

The fallout was bound to be of serious proportions as Ford is JWT’s biggest account globally, worth around $2 billion annually. This was a creative that went horribly wrong and left Ford India and its agency, JWT India, red in the face. The international media also was quick to go hammer and tongs at the sheer indiscretion the series of Ford Figo ads displayed. The JWT India team, which had created the ad, posted it online on the website, Ads of the World. It has since been removed and was never formally aired. But the damage had been done.

The most damaging ad in the series played on former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s scandal-ridden  history of sex scandals, including semi-naked women dancing at his private parties referred to as ‘bunga bunga’ parties, and his trial for soliciting an underage girl for sex. The ad has used a beaming Berlusconi as a prop, showing him with skimpily clad women bundled into the Figo’s boot. Berlusconi is shown looking back from the driver’s seat and flashing a peace sign. The tagline read: “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot.”

It has ended up turning into JWT’s and Ford’s big worry which it will not be able to bury all too soon.

Significantly, despite JWT’s assertion that the ads were the work of some misguided elements in its creative team, questions are bound to be raised in the coming days. For one, it is well documented and known that JWT India had sent in these ads as its entries for this year’s Creative Abbys. According to a senior Ad Club Executive Committee functionary, after the scandal broke, The Ad Club was informed by JWT, read Bobby Pawar, that the agency was withdrawing all Ford entries from the Creative Abbys. This official also informed that the contentious Figo ads were entered in the Outdoor category.

The spotlight may turn now on how the entries were cleared as JWT entries in the first place. Obviously scapegoats would be found as many hide for cover. In the first place, all entries to the Creative Abbys have to have a signed consent from the client. And the agency creative head too has to sign on the entry.

That begs the question: How many more people were party to these Figo ads being sent as official JWT India entries for the Creative Abbys? There are some from the client side who were fully aware of the ads being entered. And there are some from JWT, other than just Bobby Pawar and Vijay Simha Vellanki who were privy and party to the decision.

As a senior industry leader who heads a leading agency commented on condition of anonymity, “With shit hitting the ceiling, somebody had to be shafted. Bobby has taken the brunt.”

Also read: Commentary: Scam ads, Ford, JWT, Bobby Pawar, Colvyn Harris, Kardashians… Ford and JWT eat humble pie with misguided creative

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