On Tuesday, Ford India and a British ad agency apologized for what they said was an unauthorized ad showing three scantily clad, gagged and bound women in the back of a Ford Figo compact car driven by a lewdly smirking caricature of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.
The tagline for the ad: "Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra-large boot," referring to the former Prime Minister's many affairs and "bunga bunga parties." Sharp criticism has since come from Italy, where the 76-year-old former Prime Minister Berlusconi is appealing a conviction for tax fraud and is on trial over accusations of paying for sex with a minor.
Two of the women in the trunk of the ad were identified as Nicole Minetti, an Italian showgirl-turned-politician who has turned against Berlusconi, and former erotic pole dancer, Karima El Mahroug, also known as "Ruby, the Heart Stealer," who is at the center of the Berlusconi sex scandal.
Another ad, on the same theme, shows a character resembling Paris Hilton hauling what looks like the Kardashian sisters in the trunk.
The issue comes at a particularly awkward time for India also, which is still reeling over a number of cases of sexual attacks against women, including one of a 23-year-old female and her male friend by six men on a bus last year. The woman died two weeks later of her injuries. Six men were arrested and charged in the incident, although one of the suspects apparently committed suicide while in custody.
The ads, which were aimed for the Indian and American markets, were produced by JWT India, which is a subsidiary of the British advertising and public relations giant The WPP Group. The JWT India team posted the Berlusconi ad online to the website, Ads of the World, apparently without official approval, the Indian newspaper The Hindu reported.
Ford India apologized for the ad, saying in a statement to The Hindu that it was "contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners," that "[T]his 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," and that, "These were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet."
The JWT Indian advertising agency unit fired an undisclosed number of workers Wednesday.
Many online responses to the ad connote an air of indifference or support. I mean, who wouldn't want the Kardashian sisters bound and gagged and hauled off? Right?
As much I can't stand them, or Paris Hilton for that matter, this is not some overblown manufactured controversy. Nor is it comedic. It is an unacceptable message made even more repugnant by the fact that it comes just after several women's gang rapes and one resulting death in the same country. It's further unacceptable because of the international discussion about how seemingly normal and commonplace sexual violence is perceived to be, both in India and elsewhere.
It's infuriating that a previously respected corporation has an ad (even thought it was never "intended for paid publication and should never have been created," it was still created) that says, "Our hatchbacks are perfect for hiding and transporting victims."
Ford needs to drop this agency. It's obvious that male Indian culture still wrestles with twisted attitudes toward women as disposable chattel, even by those in authority. And now it's equally obvious that that culture thinks rape and murder are funny.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com