Do scam ads pose a problem in the UK?

The hoary old issue of scam ads has once again been raised, following the JWT India/Ford Figo poster farrago. It’s a familiar tale of ads that never ran being entered into an awards scheme – although one with a particularly unpleasant element given the images of tied-up women involved. To its credit, JWT acted quickly to remove those responsible from their posts. However, in some quarters, the creation of scam ads has become something of a cottage industry.

They have long been considered a feature of foreign awards schemes and a creation of overseas agencies (Brazil’s Moma Propaganda won a silver and a bronze Lion at Cannes for Kia in 2011, which were subsequently withdrawn), although they are not without precedent in the UK. Given that they are an alarmingly recurring theme at awards ceremonies, presumably scam ads still get through undetected.

Apologists claim that they are caused by frustration from creatives that client influence is blunting their work. Others say that they are a cheat to clients, colleagues and the industry as a whole. But just how bad is the problem in the UK?

Creative head

Richard Denney, executive creative director, DLKW Lowe

"It wastes time when jury members have to sift this sort of work out. Calls have to be made to the creators to check if it’s legit or not. Not only is this a pain, it’s also highly unfair for those entering genuine work that has taken months to conceive and produce. It’s bad practice for us as an industry and hardly teaches the next generation the importance of brand strategy and truly great creative problem-solving. It’s up to the executive creative director to set the example. Saying that, I am all for creative teams being proactive as long as the client supports the work, it’s on-strategy and runs officially."

Creative head

Andy Bird, executive creative director, Publicis London

"Every so often there seems to be a ‘scam’ ad that hits the headlines. The Kia ‘paedophile’ ad that won at Cannes before being stripped of its silver (after the client denied all knowledge) and the WWF ‘9/11’ ad, both from Brazil, spring to mind. I doubt the same could happen in the UK, where there is stringent creative and moral rigour from all sides – agency, brand and regulator. That’s not to say agencies don’t, on occasion, sell in ideas without having been formally briefed, with the intention of creating great work of real, tangible benefit to the client. But it’s all a far cry from creating unapproved, offensive ads in the name of creativity."

Creative head

Paul Silburn, creative partner, Saatchi & Saatchi

"Is scam a problem? I think it might be becoming more of one. But people who see scam as a worthwhile way to win advertising awards are pathetic. Personally, I don’t understand how anyone who does that sort of thing can look at themselves in the mirror – but I’ve no doubt that there are some creatives who have used scam to try to build their careers. In the UK, there has been talk recently about some agencies being encouraged to make scam ads as a way to raise their profile. You have to wonder why those agencies aren’t busy enough working on client business. And ask why they can’t find a way to make great, genuine advertising for those clients."

Creative head

Darren Bailes, executive creative director, VCCP

"To have work made public that was never signed off by the client is the agency equivalent of a death wish. It doesn’t matter if that work is brilliant (and, yes, the Berlusconi mock-up is amusing in a Private Eye sort of way), because we live and breathe a business where the client trusts an agency with its brand. Scam ads seem to be less of a problem in the UK currently, because it is not worth the risk when the climate is so tough. Emerging markets have more rope to play with – the stakes of loss aren’t as high when you’re busy building up your chips."