Are you having a rough Monday?
At least you weren’t handling a fast-moving PR crisis all weekend.
That was the case for Ford Motor Co.’s public relations team as it crafted a response to a disturbing mockup print ad for its Figo model that staffers at an unaffiliated agency had posted to the Internet.
“We were working throughout the course of the weekend,” Scott Monty, Ford’s global head of social media, told PR Daily. “It was a global coordinated response led out of our Asia Pacific office.”
The ads depict various women bound and gagged in the trunk of a Figo. For instance, one shows former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi driving the car with three women tied up in the trunk. The tagline says, “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot.” Another features Paris Hilton at the wheel, with the three Kardashian sisters in the trunk. Ford’s logo is emblazoned across both ads.
You can see the ads here.
The ads were created by JWT India, which is owned by WPP. Employees at the firm posted the mockups to the website Ads of the World to “show off their creative chops,” reported Business Insider. The ads were not commissioned by Ford, nor were they approved by the company. The ads were removed from the site, but not before Business Insider spotted them and shared the images late Friday.
The headline to the story screamed: “Worst Ford ad ever?”
Monty said he spotted the article as he was boarding a plane in Europe that was bound for the U.S. For the PR team in the Asia Pacific region, the story broke Saturday morning. Monty said he trusted the team to handle the crisis.
“It’s really a matter of having a well-integrated team—a globally coordinated effort—rather than just assuming folks in another region are going to handle it,” he explained. In years past, an issue like this wouldn’t have spread globally the way that it did, Monty added.
The good news for Ford is that its side of the story is gaining traction. Plus, the company could gain a little good will because it is the wronged party.
The automaker, along with WPP, issued statements making clear that Ford didn’t create the ads nor sign off on them. A group of rogue employees produced the ads and shared them. Ford and WPP both said they deeply regret the incident.
Read both of their full statements here.
Although a number of commenters on Ford’s Facebook page have taken the company to task, others have defended the automaker in the comments section of media stories about the ad controversy. For example, several commenters to BuzzFeed‘s story on the topic—which carried the headline, “Amazingly, These Sleazy Ford Ads Are Real“—slam the publication for its misleading headline.
The first comment says:
“So… Ford didn’t approve of them, is what you’re saying. Then they’re not Ford ads. They’re the kind of spec work ad agencies make every day. And your headline, ‘These Ford Ads Are Real,’ is literally the opposite of the actual story.”
Monty chalked up these comments, in part, to the type of brand loyalty Ford has cultivated.
Despite the company’s response, and its brand defenders, the ads still carry the Ford logo, which means months—perhaps years from now—someone could discover the pictures online and spark another viral incident.
Heineken, for example, dealt with a PR crisis last year when a photo of a dogfight in Thailand went viral. A Heineken banner is in the background of the photo, leading people to believe the beer maker had sponsored the fight.
Monty said that for Ford, squelching the crisis requires social media monitoring.
“We’ll just have to monitor and answer questions as they come up,” he said about the ad crisis. “That’s why it’s good to have a strong monitoring platform.”