Ivan Raszl, founder of adsoftheworld.com (AotW), which hosted the controversial Ford Figo ads, said in an interview that he didn’t anticipate the fallout that resulted in the exit of Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer and managing partner of JWT India.
The site, which hosts ads from across the world, was born out of a need to organize them to serve as a reference when working on brands in industries that the New York-based Raszl wasn’t familiar with. Currently listed as the top blog on the AdAge Power 150 list, AotW has over a million visitors every month. Edited excerpts.
How do you choose what campaigns are posted, especially the controversial ones?
My objective with the blog is to inform what’s going on around the world in advertising. I post everything people send me that is well done or interesting in some way or another. I have rejected campaigns in the past because they were insensitive. For example, I declined to post campaign that promoted racial violence. In another case, I declined to post a campaign that showed kids in sexually suggestive situations. There were several campaigns I rejected that called for aggressive actions against Israel and the US. But these are an extremely tiny percentage of submitted campaigns and I’m sure the creatives themselves are now glad the ads were never released with their names under them.
Generally, I try not to gag creatives. I support freedom of expression as much as possible. Criticism of public figures, religion or political views are ok. Even nudity, bad language and violence to a certain extent is ok, too. And I make a conscious effort to exclude my personal views on a subject when making a decision on what to publish, so many times I publish things that are within the boundaries of acceptable for the site, yet I strongly disagree with the message or its delivery. Other times, I would reject a poorly executed ad even if it’s in line with a message I strongly agree with. The objective is to inform and inspire creatives around the world, not to push my values on others.
You maintain that you do not take ads off the site. What prompted you to do it this time?
I removed the Ford Figo campaign on request from the agency because we wanted to contain the damage to the creatives, the agency and the client. Mostly, I was concerned for the jobs of the creatives. Ads of the World has been in operation since 2005 and I can’t recall any other case where creatives have lost their jobs over a controversial campaign. I can, however, recall many events when creatives reported finding a job or being promoted in direct result of publicity.
Did you expect the Ford Figo campaign to get so much unwanted attention?
No. I thought it would be shared on Facebook and Twitter, would receive mixed feedback and that’s the end of it. If I had anticipated such a fallout, I would have advised the creatives not to release it. But I don’t think anybody including JWT’s or Ford’s management, if they have seen it, thought it would create such a hoopla. I don’t think the generated attention is warranted to be honest. It’s just a bad joke, nothing else. The ads are not suggesting people should kidnap people or do criminal activities. The people in the trunk are a metaphor for problems in general and it’s a play on words. The idea is a bit convoluted and can be easily misunderstood. I think the reason they got so much attention retrospectively is because the Kardashians get in the paper whatever happens around them. If instead of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians, the creatives would’ve used Steve Jobs in the driver’s seat with his business rivals in the trunk, the campaign wouldn’t have generated this much attention. I think people can’t tolerate suggesting violence against women and rightly so.
To your mind, what impact will this controversy have on Ford as well as JWT?
I think it will have minimal-to-no impact. These ads were not publicly released in a newspaper or a magazine. They were created for award shows and ad blogs with the purpose of agency self-promotion. I think nobody will think less of JWT in the industry because of the ads. Although, many creatives voiced their opinion that the firing of the creatives was a mistake, as they expected the agency to stand up for their people. But I can appreciate that the agency had do something dramatic in order to mitigate the situation with the client. In the advertising industry, all creatives try to stand out a bit by making an ad that is noticed by the audience. And that inevitably means we push the boundaries of the socially acceptable and the boring. Sometimes creatives go overboard either intentionally, like in the case of the Benetton campaigns, or unintentionally, like in this case. It’s a risky business and hard to find the perfect balance.
Ford got a lot of exposure out of this event, which I think ironically benefited them. Many of the people exposed to these ads will now know that the Ford Figo has a large trunk. Some of them will look up what this car looks like. Some may even find the ads funny for ridiculing a controversial politician or the B-class celebrities who are famous for no apparent talent. Ford will surely see measurable brand recall, thanks to this campaign and perhaps even see a slight increase in sales. Ford Figo, from a car that nobody even heard of, became the car that was in the news.
What is your stand on ads created just to win awards?
I don’t mind this practice. Ad award shows should be seen as fashion or car shows. The objective is not to showcase clothes, cars or ads that will actually go into production. The idea is to explore what’s possible, generate feedback and then take the learning and incorporate it into real work. Award shows should be a celebration of creativity without much restriction. Most of the work submitted for award shows is fake anyway. Most agencies have the practice of paying for one insertion of a creative ad to have the proof of the ad being published and at the same time running nationwide campaigns with another ‘safe’ creative that will never win anything. But I don’t want to criticize award shows for their rules because they have good reasons why they do the show the way they do it. If we want to compare released ads, it should be about their objectively measurable effectiveness and there are shows for that, too.