Many of you are by now familiar with the recent scandal which has embroiled Ford and JWT India with regard to a series of “Scam Ads” for the Ford Figo. The ads were created for entry into an awards show and were accompanied by tear sheets and a client letter allegedly vouching for their authenticity. Much has been made about the actions taken by Ford which led to the dismissal of two JWT creative representatives and a member of the client’s marketing team for the offensive nature of the scam ads.
What is interesting are the revelations which have come to light regarding these faux ads and the extent to which agencies around the globe invest the time and money in creating these ads for the sole purpose of demonstrating their creative prowess. One might ask; “Are awards really that important to the agency community?” So much so that their actual work on a client’s behalf is deemed to be too pedestrian to be entered into competition? In commenting on this practice to Ad Age, Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett observed; “Sometimes, we (the industry) are so consumed with winning awards that we forget how public our work is.”
Much of the feedback has rightly been on the potential negative impact these ads can have on a brand when they inadvertently become public, as in the case of Ford. But there is another aspect to this practice beyond who bears the risk and it is related to the issue of who bears the expense of this non-sensical pursuit of creative recognition. The answer to this question should come as no surprise to anyone… the advertiser. Interestingly, according to Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4A’s; “Clients don’t know that this happening.”
Not only is there the time-of-staff spent on creating these ads, the production costs and potentially the award show entry fees and even travel to awards shows such as Cannes (if not in direct expenses, overhead allocation) but the opportunity cost related to the diversion of client-paid agency resources being diverted away from brand building and demand generation advertising support.
Given all of the good work done by agencies and advertisers alike, it is a shame that a sophomoric practice such as the creation of “scam ads” exists and serves to detract from the perceived level of professionalism attributed to the entire advertising industry. As the old proverb goes;
“Don’t do what you’ll have to find an excuse for.”
What can be done? The Ford – JWT firings of those responsible for the Figo ads are one thing, others have advocated for creative award show reforms such as banning faux ads from entry combined with a more thorough vetting process. From our experience, advertisers who employ contract compliance auditing, with detailed fee/ time-of-staff monitoring and expense reconciliation can further enhance the controls necessary to insure that agency behavior and financial stewardship decisions are consistent with expectations.