In the history of advertising, there have been some very bad campaigns… Campaigns with creative that makes you wonder who on earth approved it… You can forgive bad advertising when it’s expected, like those late night television pitches for the amazing lettuce knife. You can’t forgive it at all when the ads come from a big agency working for a big company that should just know better.
Take Ford Canada’s recent “Drive it like you stole it” campaign, which ran across the Prairies, for an extreme example. The Globe and Mail wrote an interesting piece on this campaign this week (March 4, 2008) that examined how the ads saw the light of day, as well as their resulting drag on the corporate reputations of Ford and its agency, Y&R.
It was, as they say, bad PR, to suggest someone should drive a vehicle like a car thief. It was especially bad PR in Winnipeg where we have battled chronic car theft for years. We don’t have run of the mill car thieves here. Our car thieves run down joggers and cyclists; they jam accelerators to the floorboard and ram cars into apartment blocks; they screech down streets and ricochet off cars and buildings.
As a communications and public relations consultant, I find it amazing that a credible creative team could have recommended such a harebrained concept. Shall we “Do our books like Enron next?” Or, perhaps 7-Eleven would like us to “Shop like we’re armed?” I have to conclude that the creative team was either completely unaware of Winnipeg’s car theft problem, or merely oblivious that their ad might offend. It was dumb regardless.
Don’t they read the news?
I’m currently teaching a course in Public Relations Fundamentals at the University of Winnipeg. I tell my students that it is the role of a PR consultant to know what is going on in the world. If you don’t know what’s going on, and what the media is writing or saying, you can’t do your job. Most advertisers do the same, but this episode certainly makes a strong case for having public relations expertise working on your advertising account.
I am glad Y&R pulled the campaign immediately. The agency also, properly, apologized for it. In the end, Ford’s image will probably not carry a permanent scar from this episode. I’m not sure if the same can be said for the agency.