CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; Ford ad was just a cock-up but it has raised a big issue

A sense of ‘there but for the grace of God go we’ was tangible all week. Clients across town will have hit the phones, checking that the ‘whitening’ out of faces on the Ford mail pack, or anything similar, had not taken place in their literature. Or, at least, that they would never be found out if it had. The irony of the story sharing tabloid acres with a bleached-out, deified Michael Jackson as Christ at the Brit Awards was sadly lost on everyone but the admirable Jarvis Cocker.

A sense of ‘there but for the grace of God go we’ was tangible all week.

Clients across town will have hit the phones, checking that the

‘whitening’ out of faces on the Ford mail pack, or anything similar, had

not taken place in their literature. Or, at least, that they would never

be found out if it had. The irony of the story sharing tabloid acres

with a bleached-out, deified Michael Jackson as Christ at the Brit

Awards was sadly lost on everyone but the admirable Jarvis Cocker.



No-one leapt on the Ford story’s pan-European advertising angle, but

that’s not surprising, is it? The British advertising industry has long

dismissed the issue of pan-European advertising as boring - why should

the nation’s tabloid hacks find it otherwise? Especially as poor Ogilvy

and Mather wasn’t even able to defend itself, having been told by the

client to take the rap and shut up. Therefore, it was far easier to see

in the Ford fiasco a story of racism at O&M and Ford in the UK, when

it’s really more about penny-pinching. The debacle happened because

someone at Ford/O&M sanctioned the retouching of a photograph,

originally used in the UK market, for use in the Polish market. Having

decided that the ethnic constitution of the photograph was not suitable

for Poland, they didn’t do what commonsense dictates and take a new

photo. No, that would run contrary to the economies of scale that pan-European advertising makes possible. Perhaps, at a push, a market like

Spain or Italy might merit its own photo, but Poland... How much has

this penny-pinching now cost Ford UK? The mind boggles. Meanwhile, shame

on Ford for gagging the agency.



But all week they kept on, those hacks: isn’t it clearly racism, they

asked us, breathless. The answer remained a resounding ‘no’. The Ford

fiasco wasn’t racism, it was pure cock-up - if a pretty big one.



However, there’s an inescapable follow-up observation to be made. How

many black or Asian heroes of car ads are there today? Is it an Asian

businessman who searches for the hero inside himself? Is the car of the

future driven by one? Is Nicole’s boyfriend black? Is it a black

Englishman in New York driving his car round his loft? How about the

women re-enacting Thelma and Louise? What colour is the woman who leaves

the Stepford wives in ‘Smalltown’ behind? Does a black celebrity sell

like Ruby Wax or Ryan Giggs? Have agencies given up trying because they

know that their casting suggestions will be rejected by the client?



A cartoon appeared last week featuring two seagulls covered in oil from

the tanker disaster; the caption read something like: ‘Bang goes our

chances of appearing in a Ford ad, then.’ Sadly, those seagulls are

unlikely to have more luck with Ford’s competitors.



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