Friday, April 19, 2013

What does the ford figo controversy mean?

1. What is it all about?
A few risque ads were released on a showcase website that features ads from across the world. I won't get into details here as it has been amply dissected everywhere else already. (this one reading might help get you up to speed.)

Lets get the obvious out of the way - Of course the ad is appalling. (and of course scam culture must die.)
Perhaps its existence is unwarranted. But the reactions to it were confused. What I am interested in the curious collective response: It is a mix of regression, repression and pandering to powers that be.

2. What are they exactly reacting to?

God knows.
Some people read the ad as 'condoning of rape culture'. Some were reacting to 'Berlusconi'. Some to existence of 'scam ads' and quite a few others to the fact that it came from Ford.

In the absence of context, all readings are fair. But the absence of context itself is unfair. 

The context in which the ad was created is this one - The ad was intended for other ad folks who appreciate bad communication (the kind that is needlessly layered, needlessly twisted, needlessly 'smart'). Irony is in fashion. The ad was ironical. It was sure to be a success in that context.

The context in which the ad existed - of wall-less web: The web necessarily destroys walls and hence creator's control over the message. and hence the hate that Justin Beiber receives, unjustly. Justin's audience perhaps are the 13 year old girls (or the ones who feel that way). So if you are not a 13 year old girl, perhaps you should simply not listen to his songs. The hate mongering is unjust. The absence of walls, puts the onus on the listener to chose what he listens to.
So the first reading is who chose to read it? - The media. 
Media is doing its job of magnifying things that need to be magnified. Is it's reading unjust? Perhaps, because it pushes out the creator's intent altogether. (However, the intent itself is problematic, a subsequent issue that was thankfully brought to fore and would hopefully culminate with the end of scam ads.)
It is also unjust because media must be conscious of the effect it has. The superficial analysis in most media outlets, created confusion regarding the outrage. Everyone was outraged, but no one could eactly put a finger on what.
The confusion is terrible because it creates uncertainties. In uncertainties, when you want to play safe, the casualty would be the space for brand's interaction with the greater society.
This uncertainty is the mother of 'doublespeak'. Welcome 1984.


3. Would it have been such a scandal if Berlusconi was not featured in the ad? Replace him with say N.D. Tiwari. What would have been the reaction then?

Certainly, it wouldn't have received the international fame (infamy?).

Slate.com cries 'off with the head'. Agency complies.(and here Slate is being irresponsible for not analyzing the issue, but raging like a troll.)

A frequently reposted FB meme, words of Voltaire apparently, tells me that "To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize."
If the ad is read as a social commentary on Berlusconi's misadventures, the reaction tells me that Berlusconi was not too pleased with it and turned a few wheels to make himself feel good. 
Mr. Berlusconi, meet Mr. N.D. Tiwari

4. 'But ads are not comic strips. Ads do not have an intrinsic moral right for social commentary.' Or do they?
If brands and corporates are increasingly becoming more powerful than entire nations, and are the central arbiters of culture, ecology and our fate, Brands must interact with and communicate broader social issues. 

5. Which brings me to the question of authenticity. How does the brand-agency complex address the authentic voice issue. If someone else (agency) is paid full time to talk on your behalf (brand), the other person at best will be communicating what he 'feels' is authentic voice of the person who is paying him.
To ensure authenticity, unfortunately the dialogue between the agency and brand is about 'control' - Guidelines, checks and balances.
The ford incident has turned into a statement about the slip in control - hence people getting fired and apologies being extended.

A relationship hinged on the language of control is a prelude to crisis. (Go on, try controlling your friends/ spouse)

6. Ford didn't intend to say what this commercial said, but it possibly didn't intend to say what it said with its earlier commercials as well. It was the clever JWT sweet talking me into buying a ford car all this while!

a. Isn't there something gross about outsourcing your speech? Is outsourcing speech similar to outsourcing cooking your food and laundry? Surely, outsourcing labour is different from outsourcing thoughts and communicated intent. That is why we have the farce of 'Vedanta' and 'Coca cola happiness'. (The issue here is of reading a communication alone (open happiness) v/s reading the communication with the cognizance of who is saying it in what context.(merely saying 'opening happiness' while harming local cultures and ecology.))

b. Often agencies present to brands, alternatives of what the brand could say/do. and like a restaurant patron, the client chooses from the menu, what he might want to say/do. The dialogue is in essence in a binary language - yes/no. Imagine, how limiting that is! (Vocabulary of a thousand words v/s vocabulary of ~ 2 words)
If a brand of today was a person, he would be without lips. (how often do clients write actual briefs for an ad? (rhetorical question.))
He needs another person to do its talking. This other person (agency) would be entirely made of sensory organs only - eyes, ears and a big mouth. (Agency = Brahmin. Brands = Kshatriya.)

The reaction tells me, that the organs have failed to evolve together as a single organism. We need more 'authentic' voices from within the brand itself, rather than the voice being packaged outside.


Times has come for renegotiate the modern imperative of super specialization - for the sake of authenticity, more producers themselves should also talk. Agencies perhaps need to take on the role of training producers in talking truth engagingly. (hey, big monies there. white space.)

Brands, often lacking in imagination, needs agency's creativity to appear in sync with the times. Agency people need the podium that brands' money can buy. Currently, the incentives are structured in a way that will only increase such incidences. (scam ads, misfires, public oops, inauthentic messages)

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