Sriram Padmanabhan, Vice President – Marketing, Ford Motor Company has quit after four months in his new role at the company. In an official statement, Ford said, “One member of the Ford India team is no longer with the company. Per our policy, we will not identify that individual publicly.” However, highly placed sources have confirmed the exit of Padmanabhan, following the JWT – Ford fiasco.
After the international outrage, Bobby Pawar, JWT India’s Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner, as well as Vijay Simha, Creative Director at Blue Hive, a WPP unit dedicated to managing the Ford business, have also been asked to resign.
Prior to this, Padmanabhan was the General Manager – Consumer Marketing, Ford India for 2 years and 6 months. He has extensive experience in senior management and operational roles, over the last 17 years, mainly within the automotive Industry. He has held international marketing & sales positions in India and the Asia Pacific & Africa Region based out of Shanghai. He has also run independent business entities in Australia & UK.
In an official statement, Ford added, “We deeply regret this incident and agree with WPP that it should have never happened. The posters are contrary to our values and everything we believe in at Ford. We sincerely apologise that they ever were created. After internal reviews, both Ford and WPP have taken appropriate actions. We take this very seriously. Together with WPP, we are reviewing our processes and increasing our education efforts to help ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”
The wild fire was created by JWT for Ford showing the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi flashing a peace sign with scantily clad women in the Ford Figo’s boot. The controversy was supported with another ad showing Paris Hilton driving a Ford Figo with the Kardashians tied up in the boot and the third one had the Formula One driver Michael Schumacher kidnapping his male racing rivals namely Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The posters, which were not approved by Ford India’s officials, were posted on the website Adsoftheworld.com but all three have since been removed. Official apologies have been issued by Ford and JWT’s holding company WPP. The brand is facing an image crisis with international publications slamming the incident and dozens of people on social media saying that they will never consider a Ford purchase after this campaign.
Criticism flowed in from every corner with outrage from the creative fraternity on the sacrifice made by the agency's creative leader to please the client. It raised questions on the agency being blamed solely for the goof-up when procedure demands that every piece of work received as entries at award shows should be accompanied with letters of approval from the client. However, the case rests with the exit of the marketing head.