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Ad scandals: where should the buck stop?

Ad scandals: where should the buck stop?
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First Published: Tue, May 20 2008. 11 51 PM IST

Marion Arathoon
Marion Arathoon
Updated: Tue, May 20 2008. 11 51 PM IST
It’s the law of the jungle that the weakest go first. Two young creative execs at McCann Erickson India were reportedly sacked recently after a campaign they created, using an existing client — Hanes innerwear — for entering an international ad awards competition, raised a stink overseas for its graphic images and racist epithets. I wondered why the Indian agency’s chain of command appears to have escaped unscathed. Do the same jungle rules apply to the ad world?
Marion Arathoon
It is not uncommon for agencies to create such ads that don’t end up being widely aired or published broadly in order to try and win awards. It appears though these ads were so over the top that an international uproar ensued, with the international side of the client then sacking the agency. Turns out Hanes didn’t know about these ads, which reportedly had limited release in an Indian newspaper before showing up in competition or online.
I also wonder: Weren’t these ads cleared by at least mid-level if not the top agency brass here, especially since they were to represent the agency’s cutting-edge work? More than two creatives getting carried away, isn’t there a deeper breach of ethics here as such work could impact the client’s brand whose custodian was the agency? One of the creatives involved said the final decision on staying or leaving was up to them, and that the award entries were cleared by some agency executives. But, in an age where clients are seeking more transparency and accountability, it would be good to get the official version of what really happened. Such episodes can send young creatives a grim message.
Says an ad chief, “At times, young creatives don’t get credits for award-winning work they create. But, when it’s time to get the brickbats, they sometimes have to stand alone.” One ad veteran blames the incident and other related issues on more creative minds becoming ad agency chiefs. He says some of them are more intent on building their own brands, through awards, than clients’ brands. I guess, creativity can become profitable growth or personal growth. While one can debate this reasoning, agencies should stand by their people or at least own up to the real issue.
We may never find out what exactly happened here as the Indian agency will want to stay as far as possible from the controversy for fear of angering its international counterparts. Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann India, was out of India as this column went to press.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at advalue@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, May 20 2008. 11 51 PM IST