Overseas Ad Leaves Ogilvy USA Needing Crisis Management

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    man in a knit cap grayscale | Crisis Management

    Another “what were they thinking?” moment from a high-profile ad agency

    Crisis management is not uncommon for advertisements to offend, but once in a while one goes so far that you have to wonder how it was ever approved. This week, ad industry leader Ogilvy & Mather came under major scrutiny from the public after its Indian offices created a commercial focused around the extremist shooting of Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai — for, of all things, a mattress retailer.

    HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman reports:

    The ad, made for Indian mattress retailer Kurl-on, sparked outrage by grapically picturing the attack on the education activist, who was 14 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban with an AK-47 assault rifle. The ad shows the young girl facing down the gun, being shot, and tumbling through the air while injured. After landing on a Kurl-on mattress, she is able to “bounce back” — the theme of the ad — to be honored for her work.

    The execs at Ogilvy, no crisis management slouches themselves, quickly responded with a strong statement:

    “We deeply regret this incident and want to apologize to Malala Yousafzai and her family,” Rachel Ufer, a senior partner and spokeswoman for Ogilvy, said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “We are investigating how our standards were compromised in this case and will take whatever corrective action is necessary.”

    This case actually offers two lessons. The most obvious is to consider how any messaging you put out there could be perceived negatively by stakeholders. The second is that the actions of one branch of your organization can, and will, affect the reputations of the others.

    The first one is really all about common sense and the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes.

    To steer clear of the second issue, avoid the common trap of creating silos – smaller parts of a larger organization that fail to communicate with one another. In other words, make sure everyone is on the same page regardless of how large you’ve grown. Obviously, the folks running Ogilvy’s Indian office are drastically out of touch with those at their home base here in the States. And as Ogilvy also has a quite reputable PR division, you can bet they weren’t in the loop until it became time for damage control.

    Of course, one really must wonder who at the mattress company thought this would be a great angle to push their product, and how their sales figures are looking since this story emerged.

    Advertising is an amazing tool, but the risks of employing it carelessly apply to both clients and agencies. Don’t wind up losing money because you pushed too hard to make a buck.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]