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What Leo Burnett's Arvind Sharma had to say on Tata Salt controversy

Brands Apr 9, 2013

Why Leo Burnett withdrew suspect ads for Tata Salt from awards

By Anant Rangaswami

In an embarrassing development, Leo Burnett withdrew two award-winning Tata Salt Lite radio spots from the Abby Awards on instructions from the client.

Leo Burnett's Arvind Sharma confirmed the decision to withdraw in a letter to Shashi Sinha, chairman of the Awards Governing Council.
The letter reads as follows:

Dear Shashi

I know that there was some debate at the AGC about two Tata Salt Lite radio spots submitted by us. I recused myself from this debate and the AGC decided to award the spots. Today a website alluded to this debate with unnecessary insinuations. We do not want any unwarranted insinuations about one of our prestigious clients and brands to continue. We request AGC to treat these two spots as withdrawn from our side.

Thanking you

Arvind Sharma
Chairman & CEO India Subcontinent

Image courtesy: Tata website.

Image courtesy: Tata website.

Tata Chemicals made the following statement in explanation.

"It is unfortunate that our agency has been under the cloud of controversy regarding their recent Abby's awards based on work done on our brand. The entire award submission process is one initiated and entirely managed by the agency; our role as a client was limited to approval of the creative. As a client, we were not aware of all the other technical requirements and subsequent process of submission criteria etc. As soon as the inconsistencies were brought to our attention, and upon further enquiry, we concluded that it would be appropriate for the agency to return the award to the organizers. We regret this incident which only strengthens our resolve for and commitment to strict adherence to standards."

The Tata statement is consistent with the values that brand Tata represents and upholds. After all, the overall Tata brand was ranked, in March 2013, as the world's 39th most valuable brand and had a combined brand valuation of $ 18.23 billion.

The crux of the situation, put simply, is this: Tata Chemicals was not aware that they were party to scam advertising.
Arvind Sharma protests too much when he says, "Today a website alluded to this debate with unnecessary insinuations. We do not want any unwarranted insinuations."

The allusion to the debate (in MxmIndia) was necessary and the insinuations were completely warranted.

At Goafest, when the spots in question were debated, it was because the auditors found them to be not quite kosher, which resulted in their being disqualified because the client confirmation that accompanied the entries said that the campaign was created only for entry to awards. Upon rejection, Leo Burnett convinced the client to send a second letter (one which conformed to the needs of an award entry) which sparked the debate.

When the "AGC decided to award the spots", it was by no way a unanimous decision; it was a divided house with many feeling that the entries should be thrown out.

The incident is similar to the Ford Figo ad, where the client did not quite understand the way advertising awards function and the implications of scam ads. The Ford Figo saga resulted in the resignation of JWT's creative head Bobby Pawar and others.

The Leo Burnett climb-down coming immediately in the wake of the Ford Figo ads will end up doing yeoman service to those in the anti-scam advertising camp.

Clients like Tata Chemicals will now be aware of the significance and implication of advertising awards shows and of scams - and will think many times before they clear dodgy campaigns and ads. The Tata Salt ads are by no means the only scam ads to have entered and won at the Abby's this year - but Leo Burnett, in this instance, has been outed.

by Anant Rangaswami

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