#Scamadgate | Anil Thakraney: Let’s face the facts

01 Apr,2013

By Anil Thakraney


For many creative people, it’s not been a long weekend to celebrate. I noticed there was high action on social media, as folks got busy venting over Bobby Pawar’s unfortunate sacking. While on one level I am delighted to witness this ‘standing up for a colleague’ campaign, must say that in all the furious excitement, people seem to have overlooked some key considerations. Also, I could not help but notice a similarity between the outcry and another campaign that’s underway simultaneously: And that’s ‘Pardon for Sanjay Dutt’. In one case, Bollywood has launched a massive PR drive to save their ‘hero’. And in the other one, ad land is seeking justice for their own fallen star. Both campaigns have one thing in common: Lost in emotion, we aren’t able to view the situations objectively.


So allow me to deal with the main arguments put out by the creative people:

It’s not a scam, the posters were approved by the client: This is technically correct. If a Ford executive endorsed the ads, they become official work. And the news is that Ford has sacked the concerned employee. This seems fair. However, that still doesn’t change the fact that these ads were created purely for winning awards, that they were never intended for media usage, and therefore they still fall in the ‘scams’ category. In my previous post, I have already discussed the issue of scam ads, and on what needs to be done thereof. Scam ads are rampant in the ad world, several guys and gals do it. But the JWT gang got caught with their hands in a very messy scam, and therefore there had to be retribution.


Bobby Pawar is the convenient ‘fall guy’: Ermm, not really. When work produced by an ad agency brings global disrepute to a client (as has happened in this case), the buck must stop at the desk of the creative chief. The captain has to take full responsibility of his ship, that’s the right way to go about professional life. Sacking only the crazed, award-hungry youngsters is a cop-out, that would send the wrong signals. Also, now that it’s clear that Ford had indeed endorsed this work, it’s no longer a case of some stupid kids jerking off in the back office. JWT’s responsibility becomes total and absolute. And the leader of the pack becomes directly accountable.


But shouldn’t Colvyn Harris have been punished too?: Supporters of this line of argument believe thus: Why must only creative people suffer when advertising is supposed to be team work. And that surely there were servicing people involved in this campaign. Also, as the big JWT India boss, Harris should have been the one to pay. Indeed there is merit in this argument, and am hoping that the client services director who approved this work has been sacked too. However, I am against the idea of penalizing the agency CEO. For the simple reason that Harris would (assumedly) leave the charge of all creative work to his NCD, that’s the professional thing to do. That’s why you hire a national creative director at a very high cost, so that he/she controls the agency’s output. Therefore, logically, that’s where the buck must stop. Let me give you a parallel: If a newspaper runs a false, misleading, illegal story, it’s the editor who will get axed, and not the publisher. Even though bringing out a newspaper is teamwork.


The agency should have stood up for its creative people: I entirely agree with this point of view. If you are expecting your creatives to raise the bar, be prepared to back their edgy work. If you are reluctant to do so, stick to hiring only the safe players. So far, so good. However, in Ford Figo’s case, the creatives didn’t raise the bar, they lowered it to a new low (refer to the para below). And this resulted in a very angry large multinational client, a client that the agency had to assuage, or risk losing forever. Some senior blood had to spill, and Sir Martin Sorrell himself would have been left not very amused if it hadn’t. So before you trash Colvyn Harris (and I carry no candle for him), you must also view this issue from his angle; perhaps the CEO had no choice. I am quite certain if this work had happened for a local, small-time mosquito coils maker, Bobby Pawar would still be inside his cabin. These are harsh realities of the global world, and we have to accept them.


These ads are tongue-in-cheek, we’ve lost the ability to laugh: I must tell you I am always first in queue to back work that challenges the acceptable boundaries. All along in my career, both in media and advertising, I have landed in trouble for believing and indulging in this principle. I am also always ready for a good laugh; safe and boring work pisses me off, my ad reviews will tell you that. But to create a campaign where women are projected as ‘mobile commodity’ is being totally insensitive to the gruesome rapes that keep happening every other day in India, often inside moving vehicles, AND THAT IS NOT FUNNY. If you find these ads hilarious, you need to get your head examined and your values sorted. This nation is deeply misogynistic, and women have been paying a heavy price on account of this sick mindset for a very long time. So please get this right: If you can’t be a part of the solution, for god’s sake don’t be a part of the problem.


Anil Thakraney is a senior journalist and commentator. He is also Editor-at-Large, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are personal. Follow him at @anilthakraney.


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3 responses to “#Scamadgate | Anil Thakraney: Let’s face the facts”

  1. pavan@corp2020.com says:

    Hi Anil – you’re dead right, sadly. Our corporations need to change of course, but this is not only about advertisers. Advertising needs to be accountable, and Agencies need to set ethical standards and drill them right down, even to those ‘stupid kids jerking off in the back office’. But all corporate ethics flow from the top, and if they’re missing, the top needs a surgical transplant. Pavan Sukhdev (www.corp2020.com ) pavan@corp2020.com

  2. Vishal Mehra says:

    If award (scam) advertising is targeted, why not also cancel out concept car production? Both of them are to let off some creative steam right, why single out only the advertising industry?

  3. Anonymous says:

    agree totally with the sanjay dutt analogy; in both cases the fraternity is catching the wrong end of the wick….just like colleagues want pardon of sanjay for ‘suffering’ , the ad industry wants people to see ‘humor’ in the posters where there is none….