An Indian unit of advertising group WPP has sacked employees over a series of ads, including one showing women tied up in the trunk of a Ford driven by ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The ads were published days after India approved a tougher new law to punish sex crimes, following the fatal gang rape of a student in December. That attack sparked unprecedented protests over the treatment of women in the country.
The ads, uploaded on an industry website, were created by individuals within JWT India, a unit of WPP Group PLC, the world’s biggest advertising group.
“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency at JWT,” a company statement said.
“These were never intended for paid publication, were never requested by our Ford client and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the Internet.
“These posters were created by individuals within the agency and did not go through the normal review and oversight process.
“After a thorough internal review, we have taken appropriate disciplinary action with those involved, which included the exit of employees at JWT,” it said.
Ford India also issued a statement expressing regret over the incident, but did not comment on whether it was taking any action against the agency.
One of the ads shows Mr. Berlusconi, charged in Italy with paying for sex with a minor, sitting in the front seat of a Ford Figo hatchback flashing a victory sign, with a trio of half-dressed women bound and gagged in the trunk.
Another featured a caricature of celebrity Paris Hilton in the driver’s seat, and three women resembling the Kardashian sisters bound in the trunk with the tag line “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra large boot [trunk].”
“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,” WPP said.
Comments on Twitter and Facebook dismissed the ads as “shameful” and “disgusting.”
“If this is what Ford represents, I will never buy Ford again, and try my best not to sit in one,” a Facebook user said.