The Horrible Scam Ad Trend

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

When you think of a scam ad, what comes to mind? An advertisement that misleads audiences about product or service benefits. We’ve all heard of the old bait and switch advertising that many car dealers became well-known for in the past. However, in this case, “scam ads” are big brand advertisements… without the permission of the brand. These “scam ads” are usually for purposes of winning advertising awards overseas. Weird right? Awards from these scam ads help smaller ad agencies in other countries gain new clients. Unfortunately for the big brands being used, this is a growing trend.

How does this happen?
There are individuals and smaller agencies that strive to win advertising awards by showcasing their creativity. In order to do so, these “creative minds” will leverage well-known brands to gain more authority and ensure that the ads will spread virally, even if they use unorthodox practices. These unauthorized ads are generally shocking, offensive, and crude, which helps them by creating shock value.

What this does for brands?
Scam ads can create public relations nightmares for brands who have no control or knowledge of the creation and distribution process. To make matters worse, these ads are intended to be indistinguishable from legitimate ads, created by the brand or an authorized party. The advertisements are generally produced at a high quality, which is what makes the separation process impossible for most audiences. While the general public assumes that the advertisement was a poor decision made by the company, the reality is that the advertisement was never intended to exist. Selfish right? Absolutely. Here are a few examples of brands targeted by ad scammers.

In 2013, a company named JWT India created an advertisement for the Ford Figo model, which is distributed throughout India, Mexico, South Africa, and in the Middle East. The advertisement showed three attractive women with their hands and feet bound, and their mouths gagged in the back, or “boot,” of the hatchback. The former Italian prime mister, Silvio Berlusconi, smiles from the driver’s seat, while making a peace sign with his fingers. However, this hand gesture is considered rude in other countries, including India. Berlusconi has been accused of sex scandals, which makes the ad even more offensive and inappropriate than it already was. The Ford logo, a small Ford Figo graphic, and the text, “Leave Your Worries Behind. With Figo’s extra-large boot” are displayed at the bottom of the picture.

This ad spread across the internet rapidly, causing an uproar from audiences everywhere. As it turned out, JWT India’s management did approve of the advertisement, even though Ford had never authorized the company to create it. JWT India had even submitted the advertisement in to award shows, with attempts to win big. Unfortunately for Ford, the advertisement’s reach greatly overshadowed the news reports of Ford’s innocence in the situation. Ford attempted to dissociate with the advertisement, however, this scandal still hurt the brand.

We have all played with the starch based, doughy toy at one time or another. Many children have even eaten the product, which sparked concerns in the past with the safety of the Play-Doh molds. However, Hasbro has undergone countless R&D trials to protect children, and its brand image. Unfortunately for the brand, a member of Hasbro Singapore released some inappropriate advertisements without going through the required authorization channels. The advertisements consisted of Play-Doh crafted weapons and other harmful items, with the text “Safe no matter what you make,” and the Play-Doh logo. Hasbro took quick action by scanning awards shows, and discrediting the submitter.  Fortunately for Hasbro, and the Play-Doh brand, the scam did not harm the brand because of Hasbro’s quick actions.

How to fight the Scam Ad Menace
There are multiple steps that can be taken to mitigate any PR issues that arise with scam ad creators. First, constantly scan ad awards shows to see if any unauthorized submissions have been entered with your brand name. If a scam ad has been created with your brand, contact the organization running the event immediately. Discrediting the creator before the award ceremony will help keep the ad from being viewed. Scanning these shows and popular media distributors like YouTube allows for quick action and prevention of a major PR disaster.

Another technique depends on the relationship between the brand and the scam ad creator. These ads have been created by agencies in contract with the brand. If brands are worried about the creation of these ads, they can leverage their big name to keep the agencies from creating unauthorized content. No agency wants to lose a big client over an award.

Often times these advertisements are created by an individual or an organization that has no relationship with the brand. When this happens, these is not much that brands can do beside contacting the awards shows, and seeking legal action. Unfortunately for brands, the latter option may be ineffective because many countries do not enforce copyright law.

These ads are likely to surface for years to come. Keep constant watch for illegitimate content. Regulations are likely to be set into place, but we are first and foremost responsible for protecting the good name and reputation of our brands.

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