01 August 1999

AGENCIES ON BOTH sides of the line await with bated breath the outcome of a US lawsuit against Saatchi & Saatchi’s New York office by a client unhappy with the quality of his TV commercial. The case could set a worldwide precedent, allowing clients to sue agencies if they dislike their campaigns. The $10m (£6m) suit, brought by sports shoe retail chain Just For Feet, cites an ad created by Saatchi. This shows a barefoot black athlete being drugged and forced into a pair of Nike trainers by a group of white men in a military-style vehicle, and was wildly unpopular with TV audiences across the US after its screening to 175m homes during a Superbowl broadcast. It was described as ‘appallingly insensitive’ by the New York Times and ‘neo-colonialist … culturally imperialist, and probably racist’ by Advertising Age. In evidence, Just For Feet chief executive Harold Ruttenberg claims he expressed concern about the ad’s content when it was unveiled, but was ‘browbeaten’ into using it by Saatchi creatives. In defence, the Saatchi legal team argues that ‘the imposition of a punitive damage award in the absence of … guidelines and standards is highly unfair.’