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ROME — The Ford Motor Co.’s Indian subsidiary and its advertising company JWT India both apologized for an offensive ad campaign that featured an animated version 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 same series showed hotel heiress Paris Hilton winking in the driver’s seat of a car with socialites Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian tied up in the back, while the third features retired Formula 1 race car champ Michael Schumacher driving away with rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso stashed in the trunk.
All three ads feature the tagline, “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot,” referring to the car’s large trunk.
The Berlusconi ad, which sparked the controversy, is a commentary on the 76-year-old’s lifestyle, which includes an engagement to Federica Pascale, a woman nearly 50 years his junior; a case in which he is charged with paying Karima el-Mahroug, an underage erotic dancer known as Ruby the Heartstealer, for sex; and for hosting “bunga bunga” sex romps at his villa in Sardinia. Berlusconi, who is involved in negotiations that could return him to political power, controls Mediaset, the Milan-based cinema and television powerhouse.
Italian media had a field day with the ad, with several newspapers running it atop their websites. “Here’s how they see Berlusconi,” opposition newspaper L’Unita said. It was mixed in with commentary on the country’s political coverage in other newspapers.
Ford, JWT and WPP, the ad company’s parent, all have apologized, and the ads have been pulled from the website Ads of the World, where they were first posted.
“We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened,” Ford told Business Insider. “The posters are contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners.”
Added WPP: “We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP Group. These were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the Internet.”
Although a religious and conservative country, India already has a reputation for insensitive and politically incorrect advertising: Two years ago, an ad for an Indian flat-screen TV maker used Adolf Hitler as a pitchman, showing glare from an old black-and-white television that appeared to place a halo over his head. In another series of ads, two leading newspapers — The Hindu and The Times of India — waged an ad war that many said overstepped the bounds of good taste, while an ad for a brand of blue jeans featured a woman looking away from the camera with the tagline, “What an ass!”
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