There are those who look at this ad and say, “But (former Italian Prime Minister) Silvio Berlusconi will never drive the Ford Figo” as if that is the most objectionable aspect of it. This apparently unauthorized ad for the American car company’s hatchback for the Indian market has met with a swift and entirely justifiable condemnation. There is humor that pushes the envelop and then there is humor that is just gratuitously offensive. The ad falls without any pretense in the second category.
It is not that hard to understand what the Mad Men of the Indian branch of the ad agency J Walter Thompson (JWT) were thinking when they came up with this possible cartoonish option for Ford. I say not hard because it so obviously betrays the easy misogyny of its creators. The tagline “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot” is precisely the kind of medieval view of women that characterizes many men and is at the heart of ongoing problem of violence against women. I am not for a moment presuming that the ad was necessarily a brainchild of a male ad creator. It could well have been a woman but the prospects of that being indeed so are fairly low. If their purpose was to create an ad that was consciously but ironically over-the-top and demeaning of women, it has failed so miserably. If the creators’ idea of being imaginative is tying and gagging three women straight out of a cheap S&M catalogue, it is quite pathetic. Apart from its intrinsically offensive undertones, what makes the ad revolting is that it is not even funny. There is humor which is deliberately offensive but at least has the merit of being funny. This one fails on every measure.
I wonder whether JWT India’s team thought that the demographic of potential Figo buyers that they were going for is such that they would immediately know that the man with a smug smile, flashing a V sign is the controversial Italian politician Berlusconi with a penchant for wild dalliances with freshly pubescent women. I am not entirely clear what the purpose of showing Berlusconi to a potential Indian customer is. The message seems to be that the trunk of the Figo is so large that you can dump three women with their boobs and butts spilling out and yet have room for humor. The creators should know that there is nothing even remotely funny about a woman being stuffed in the trunk of a car, even that of a Figo. Such images merely reinforce the subconscious of those men who believe that to get to know a woman is to waylay her and subject her to extreme sexual brutality.
Ford India felt compelled enough to issue an apology as quoted by various media outlets: "We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened. The posters are contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners."
Reading various reports about the ad not meant for unrestricted public consumption, my sense is that it is something advertising creative directors and copy writers do just for the heck of it, to test their creativity as it were. JWT, according to some reports, was not even contracted for the ad. Be that as it may, it was foolish to think that in this day and age of life lived and consumed in real time something like this would stay within the “creative” confines of the ad world.