Thursday, September 3

Lacking Sense: WWF Brasil, DDB Brasil, The One Show

In less than a day after a WWF representative told Adweek that a controversial and tasteless advertisement that attempts to capitalize on the 9/11 atrocity was "never authorized or approved by any WWF person on the planet," WWF Brasil and DDB Brasil issued a joint statement of apology that indicates WWF does share responsibility. WWF even issued a statement to that effect.

"WWF Brasil and DDB Brasil would like to jointly express their regret for the unfortunate incident involving the 'Tsunami' ad for World Wildlife Fund Brasil. The ad does not convey either the philosophy of the client or that of its advertising agency.

It was created and approved in late 2008, mistakenly, and was solely the result of lack of experience on the part of a few professionals from both parties involved. In no way was it done in bad faith or with disrespect to American suffering.

WWF Brasil and DDB Brasil acknowledge that such an ad never should have been made, approved or published. We reiterate our apologies to all those who may have been offended by it. The two entities have worked together for three years to mobilize people, efforts and resources for the good of the environment. A single error should not obscure past successes, nor prevent future ones."

— WWF Brasil and DDB Brasil

The ad, called Tsunami, was created by a team at DDB Brasil in December 2008, approved by WWF Brasil and ran. According to the agency, the team that created the advertisement is no longer at the agency.

Despite that statement, Adweek's investigation has found the ad won an award of merit for public service at The One Show this year. It was also released again by the agency for inclusion in Advertolog this August.

While Sergio Valente, president of DDB Brasil, said it ran once in a small local paper and he stopped it from running again, the Advertolog submission lists him as the lead creative director along with Rodolfo Sampaio, Julio Andery, and Guilherme Jahara. Based the number of occasions their names appear together, all of these people seem to be on the agency payroll, along with Adriano Matos, copywriter. Either that, or their departures were very recent.

Public Relations Sometimes Means Investigation

Where WWF went wrong was in issuing a statement before the investigation. Since, they haven't made any noise about the discovery that their promise — "On behalf of WWF, here in the US and around the world, we can promise you this ad does not in any way reflect the thoughts and feelings of the people of our organization.” — was flawed in that someone at a WWF office did approve the ad.

And, according to Valente, he (and not anyone at WWF) was the one to stop it. Or this.

The lesson here is simple enough for public relations practitioners. Never make hard statements until you have the facts.

If there was any chance anyone at WWF was involved, saying there was an investigation ought to have been enough. As for everyone else, the lessons become slightly more complex with common sense serving as the foundation for all of it.

WWF Brasil needs to do more than issue a joint apology. DDB Brasil ought to stop adding more confusion to what seems to be a growing mountain of mistruths. And The One Show might rethink its selection process.

Advertising awards don't need to be an exercise in creating over-the-top ads that most clients would not approve, run it once, and then take home trophies. If that is all there is to it, The One Show ought to pass out an award to the casino marketing professional who cheered on the California wildfires on Facebook last week because it might mean business.

Funny, huh?

Sure, we all take chances in advertising. But you don't take so many chances that your ability to crow over awards becomes eating crow over ethics. More on this soon.


Rich on 9/3/09, 2:00 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"We can't be seen to throw out an ad that's been submitted to us because we don't like the content. It was legitimate, so we have to rely on our judges, who are an international panel of judges. We cannot police what agencies send in. We can't tell our jurors to not look at something, we have to stick by our rules." — Kevin Swanepoel, president of the One Club.

He's right. It's a testament to how the judges are thinking and a growing blemish on the industry.

Rich on 9/3/09, 2:03 PM said...

Here is a link to the above mentioned quote source as it was AdAge reporting on the creation of the video that also turned heads.

Barry on 9/4/09, 4:41 AM said...

Hi Rich,

Of course I had to seek out a full blown version of the ad on google images as my curiosity was peaked.

This is a very complicated and well done image which took some one (or a team) a considerable amount of time to produce. How on earth did it make it through all of the different drafts to get to the final copy and then end up in even a small paper before it got the axe?

I feel for the illustrators who most probably were simply taking orders and applied their talents admirably to a piece which has done nothing but harm the organization. What a waste of energy.

Thanks for being one of my go to news sources.


Rich on 9/4/09, 7:18 AM said...

Hey Barry,

As more evidence surfaces, it seems pretty clear that the agency knew exactly what it was doing.

The art on its own is fine work. The concept, message, and logic to get there, however, is flawed. 9/11 was not a tragedy; it was an atrocity.

Notwithstanding, it hurts the advertising industry because shops should not be making ads for the sole purpose of winning awards. We're suppose to be preserving the brand of our clients.

As David Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer of BBDO North America (as opposed to the One Show), put it ... "It must've been eliminated in the very first round, which the jury president doesn't participate in. I assume it was eliminated either because it smacked of the worst kind of fakery or just its overall disgustingness."

Perhaps there is a different standard in Brazil, but having worked with many shops in North America, any member of the creative team could have killed the ad — illustrators included — by simply pointing out that the ad was going to far and valuation of human loss cannot somehow be boiled down to mere numbers. Creative types aren't often bullied into to executing work they find ethically challenged or morally void.

Glad you sought the full ad out. If there is any good to come out of it, this might be the ad that finally places agencies in check against producing mere 'award work.'

It's always great to read your comments here, btw. And I hope things are going very well for you. :)



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