My Take

Ford's Indian advertising campaign ill-advised

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:37pm

If it was publicity Ford Motors was seeking, it got it in trunk loads.

For the launch of its Figo model, the Indian unit of the American carmaker must have wanted special attention paid to the bigger storage area.

But the advertising agencies employed got a little more creative than the Ford bosses intended, coming up with a series of colourful ads that raced away in the media in a way those at Ford never expected.

One of the ads, which were not released publicly but went viral on the internet, showed three women bound and gagged in the boot with former Italian prime minister and notorious ladies' man Silvio Berlusconi smiling from the driver's seat alongside the slogan "Leave your worries behind with the Figo's extra-large boot".

Whether it was plain goofiness or someone thought the Indian rope trick was part of the Kama Sutra, we'll never know. But it sure put Ford on the road to a public relations disaster.

The creative geniuses behind the advertisement simply overlooked the fact it was going to be speaking to an audience saturated with media reports of rape and harassment of women over the previous few weeks.

It was a terrible case of bad timing and, predictably, caused a furore. Ford bosses went scrambling to contain the damage, even if secretly hoping for a sympathetic smirk from Italy, where male dominance is often publicly appreciated - a lawmaker even went on record with his admiration for Bill Clinton when the Monica Lewinksy scandal broke.

But the Italian public and media were already up in arms against India over two marines charged with murdering two Indian fishermen. So an Indian joke on Italian politics didn't go down well there either.

Ford apologised and the ad agency sacked people involved in the campaign. But more trouble may be on the way for Ford. Kim Kardashian's family, who were featured in another ad, are now reportedly looking at pursuing a legal challenge against the company, according to some reports in the US media.

But was the ad a plain funny one? Yes, in a naive way. Like a Mr Ford with a big rear getting a kick in the backside.

Alex Lo is on leave