Ford, WPP and Kidnapping: A Cautionary Tale

5 Apr

You trust your employees, right? They’re smart and work hard, otherwise you wouldn’t have hired them. Maybe you can let yourself slip. Go on sabbatical. Finally road trip to that house shaped like an elephant.

I bet that’s what Alan Mullaly thought. The Ford Company runs like a well-oiled machine! A Toyota, for example. It can take care of itself for a while. But then, as good ol’ Alan is staring out of a window in Dumbo’s ear canal, he gets a text message. It’s just a picture.

Ford ad


elephant house

Not as cool as the elephant shaped like a house.

If you need an explanation (though why would you?), that’s former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the front seat, giddily flashing a peace sign after kidnapping three prostitutes. Just to remind you, THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY. Alan Mullaly is no longer quite so happy to be visiting an elephant in Margate, NJ.

In the words of America’s greatest showman: But wait! There’s more!

Another version shows Paris Hilton ­similarly kidnapping a trio of Kardashians, while a third (tame in terms of the clothing at least), has Michael Schumacher toting Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton.

Apparently, advertising firm WPP created these posters to promote the Ford Figo – a car available exclusively in India – and its extravagant trunk space (not as much trunk space as the elephant house, though).

Following the poster’s appearance on website Ads of the World, WPP released a regretful statement to the Huffington Post:

“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP Group,” the statement said. “These were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet. This was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight and appropriate actions have been taken within the agency where they work to deal with the situation.”

The key there? “Individuals acting without proper oversight.” If you’re running a business, you have to be able to accept that people make mistakes. But it’s your job to make sure those mistakes don’t become public and hurt your business. I can guarantee that WPP and Ford are both taking a long, hard look at their internal practices. This might be an opportunity for you to do the same.


This is weird, but at least it’s not criminal. Unless those people are also kidnapped.

There are lot of ways that you can evaluate your business, depending on your goals. We’ve already talked about some simple things you can do to improve your customer service. Try to keep your technology up to date. Make sure employees are well-trained, and that you have clearly delineated business practices for them to fall back on in unusual situations (like, say, a cartoon ad coming across their desk featuring any number of felonies).

Going back to basics may seem… well, basic. But it’s also the best way to avoid a catastrophe on the scale of Alan Mullaly’s ruined vacation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: