Image: DDB Brazil via New York Daily NewsWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF) suffered a PR heart attack this week when bloggers and Twitterers caught scent of an alleged (and now denounced) WWF ad comparing the casualties from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to those of the 2004 Asian tsunami. In case anyone was wondering “too soon?,” the answer is yes.
WWF was quick to quash any affiliation with the advertisement, with WWF spokesperson Leslie Aun telling the New York Daily News: “We are just utterly appalled. This ad is not something that anyone in our organization would ever have signed off on.”
The image, created by ad agency DDB Brazil, portrays an outdated Manhattan skyline with a cloud of airplanes descending in attack upon the city, along with the WWF logo. It reads: “The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.”
Not only is the message offensive, but it’s scientifically flawed. It attempts to draw a connection between a tsunami, which is triggered by geological events (earthquakes, volcanic activity, etc.), and environmental preservation, which primarily falls under the category of human control (pollution, land use, etc.). All the carbon reductions and recycling in the world won’t prevent tsunamis. Advertising double-fail!
This ad concept was pitched to WWF Brazil by DDB Brazil representatives, but summarily rejected for the reasons still making us cringe.
However, it seems that the ad was nevertheless entered for a 2009 industry award for public service from New York-based The One Club. Word in the Twittersphere was that it actually won a One Show merit award, but when Grist contacted The One Club to get the real story, One Club President Kevin Swanepoel responded with a resounding “heck-no-how-did-we-get-mixed-up-in-this?” More precisely, he said that though the ad had been entered into the contest, it was withdrawn by DDB Brazil. He said ads that are not actually published or approved by the client (such as this “spec ad”) are not eligible for awards.
So what does the Brazilian ad agency that stirred up this mess have to say? Its official statement:
“The ‘Tsunami’ ad for World Wildlife Fund Brazil was created at DDB Brazil in December 2008. DDB Brazil apologizes to anyone who was offended or affected by the ad. It should never have been made and it does not portray the philosophy of the agency.”
Too bad for WWF that the Twitter and blog chatter hasn’t picked up on that disclaimer.