UPDATED: WWF Did Approve Offensive Sept. 11 Ad; DDB Brasil's Award Show Cheating Exposed

Last Updated Sep 3, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

The World Wildlife Fund in Brazil did know about a Sept. 11-themed print ad created by DDB before it ran in a Brazilian newspaper, Ad Age reports, and even made a TV commercial about it (video below). Both ads show dozens of jets aiming at the twin towers of the World Trade Center to illustrate how the tsunami that devastated East Asia shortly afterward killed "100 times" more people than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The WWF today confirmed that the ad may have been approved "at some level" and is conducting an inquiry to find out why. The WWF told BNET:
WWF Brazil has subsequently issued statements that have raised doubts about whether the ad concept was approved at some level within the WWF Brazil organization.

We have now re-launched a renewed inquiry into the circumstance surrounding the creation of the ad. Additionally, we are using every resource at our disposal to remove these images everywhere they exist online because they are hurtful and disrespectful to the victims of 9-11 and their families.
The WWF in the U.S. previously told BNET that it "did not authorize its production or publication."

But Sergio Valente, president of DDB Brasil, told Age that the ad (click to enlarge) was presented to the WWF in Brazil in December 2008 and approved; it then ran once in a local paper:
"When I saw it, I said, 'Stop running that ad,'" Mr. Valente said.
Age also quotes a joint statement from client and agency that indicates it was, indeed, approved by the WWF in Brazil:
"WWF-Brasil and DDB Brasil reaffirm that the ad never should have been created, approved or run. They deeply regret that this happened, and apologize to everyone who has been offended."
In addition to tarnishing the good name of the WWF, the episode brings to light a shady ethical practice that Brazilian agencies frequently employ to win advertising award shows: Creating a bold ad that, normally, would alienate consumers, running it once in an obscure outlet, and then entering it as a legit ad for an award.

There's an obvious solution to this practice: Award show juries should require a signed statement describing the size and scope of the media schedule for any ad entered for an award. Any shop caught cheating should forfeit the award.

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