NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) was “shocked” by a series of Indian poster advertisements that included one showing women tied up in the trunk of a Ford driven by ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, its chief marketing executive said on Wednesday.
The Indian company that produced the ads fired employees over the incident earlier this week.
“All of us were shocked,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing and sales chief. “We’ve updated, of course, all of our creative review process. We take this matter very seriously.”
Farley spoke at a breakfast before hundreds of industry executives at the New York auto show on Wednesday.
The ads appeared 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.
Employees at JWT India, a unit of the largest global advertising group WPP (WPP.L), produced the ads.
One of the posters shows Berlusconi, who is 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 Paris Hilton in the driver’s seat, with three women resembling fellow celebrities the Kardashian sisters bound in the trunk with the tagline, “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra large boot.”
The ads were uploaded to an industry website.
On Tuesday, JWT India issued a statement saying it had fired some of its employees.
“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency at JWT,” the 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.”
The statement said the posters did not go through the agency’s normal review and oversight process.
Reporting by Ben Klayman in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn