Ford's Ad Firm Fires Executives Over Spot Featuring Bound Women in Berlusconi's Trunk

Silvio Berlusconi Ford India Ad

JWT India, which created the ads, says it has taken "appropriate disciplinary action against those involved, including the exit of employees."

NEW DELHI -- Following an apology by Ford Motor Co.'s Indian subsidiary and its advertising agency, JWT India, for a controversial online campaign, the executives responsible for the ads have been fired, according to JWT.

As was widely reported this week, the offending ad campaign featured a caricature of three-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi winking and flashing a peace sign from the driver's seat of a Ford Figo, with three busty women bound and gagged in the car's trunk. Another ad in the series showed Paris Hilton winking in the driver's seat, with socialites Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian tied up in the back, and a third featured retired Formula One champion Michael Schumacher driving, with rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso stashed in the trunk. All three ads ran with the tagline, "Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra-large boot," referring to the car’s spacious trunk.

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JWT India -- a unit of WPP, the world's largest advertising group -- said in a statement Wednesday: "After a thorough internal review, we have taken appropriate disciplinary action against those involved, which included the exit of employees at JWT. These were necessary steps owing to the direct accountability of the concerned individuals as we work to ensure that both the right oversight and processes are strictly enforced so this never happens again." The statement did not specify names of the fired executives.

However, JWT India chief creative officer and managing partner Bobby Pawar confirmed his resignation, as quoted in various media reports: "This incident happened on my watch, and as a leader, I have to take moral responsibility for it." Reports also indicated that the other fired executive was Vijay Simha Vellanki, creative director at Blue Hive, a WPP unit managing the Ford India account.

STORY: Ford Apologizes for Ad Featuring Bound-and-Gagged Women in Berlusconi's Trunk (Updated)

The JWT India statement added: "We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency at JWT. These were never intended for paid publication, were never requested by our client, Ford, and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the Internet. These posters were created by individuals within the agency and did not go through the normal review and oversight process."

Ford India also issued a statement expressing regret about the incident but did not comment on whether it will take action against the agency.