Brands watch for "ghost" ads

02 April 2013

NEW YORK: Companies including Coca-Cola, adidas and Mazda have put provisions in place to prevent the creation of "ghost" ads by agencies, an issue that can rapidly grow to threaten a brand's reputation.

Ford, the automaker, recently apologised for several fake ads said to be promoting its Figo brand in India, one of which depicted Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, and women bound and gagged in the boot of the vehicle.

This ad was uploaded to an industry website and entered into an awards scheme without its approval, and quickly became the subject of online controversy.

Senior executives have since departed from JWT and Blue Hive, which handled Ford's business and were the source of these "ghost" ads.

"We are extremely sorry about the incident. It is not acceptable," Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president, global marketing and sales, said last month, USA Today reported. "We have updated, of course, all of our review processes."

Nancy Hill, president/CEO of the 4A's, the trade body, argued creative agencies have engaged in this practice for "many years". "Clients don't know that this is happening … this has got to be a wake-up call," she added.

Russell Wager, vice president of marketing at car manufacturer Mazda in North America, reported that it has developed strict procedures to ensure against becoming embroiled in a similar incident.

"Any work created that has a Mazda logo or badge on it is seen by us before it goes out," he told AdAge.

Kate Hartman, senior manager, global public relations at Coca-Cola, the soft drinks firm, stated that it was supportive of agency efforts to participate in awards programmes, but signs off all entries prior to submission.

"Our brands and our trademarks are our most valuable intellectual property, and we do not sanction any unauthorised use of them," she said.

"In the situation of scam/ghost ads, we evaluate everything on a case-by-case basis."

Paulo Ziliotto, senior network marketing manager for adidas International, the sports group, also reported that it assesses all entries into awards schemes. "There are no cases of ghost ads from our official agencies," he said.

Data sourced from USA Today/AdAge; additional content by Warc staff