Ford says the video for the Ford Sportka, a hatchback sold in Europe, was created without its approval by ad agency Ogilvy & Mather for a "viral marketing" campaign.
Ford Web ad upsets pet lovers
'Unauthorized' spot shows an animated cat being decapitated
By Nick Bunkley / The Detroit News
DEARBORN — A 39-second Internet commercial that Ford Motor Co. says it never meant to release is circling the globe through e-mails, appalling pet lovers with its depiction of a cat being decapitated.
The ad for the Ford Sportka, a hatchback sold in Europe, shows an animated but realistic-looking orange tabby cat climbing on top of the car and curiously poking its head into the open moonroof.
The moonroof slides closed and the cat struggles briefly to escape before its headless body slides to the ground.
Ford says the clip was conceived without its approval by ad agency Ogilvy & Mather as part of a “viral marketing” campaign for the Sportka, billed as the Ford Ka’s “evil twin.”
Companies can get widespread exposure for little money through viral marketing. Ads are posted online in the hopes that Web users will find them funny or entertaining and e-mail them to friends.
But as Ford has learned, once released the ads are out of anybody’s control and can float in cyberspace indefinitely.
“It replicates itself, and anything that is controversial is what’s likely to be shipped around the world,” said Sam Fullerton, who heads the department of marketing at Eastern Michigan University’s business school.
Fullerton has received the clip through e-mail several times, from as far away as New Zealand.
“It’s definitely created a buzz,” he said. “Some people argue that any buzz is good, but I don’t necessarily adhere to that philosophy.”
Ford did like another ad showing a cartoon pigeon getting a fatal whack from the Sportka’s hood and released it online last September.
The cat clip began circulating online several weeks ago, prompting Ford to apologize and begin investigating how it leaked out.
“We find this unauthorized ad totally unacceptable and reprehensible and deplore the fact that it has been unofficially issued,” Ford spokesman Oscar Suris said.
Ford is not the first company accused of sacrificing a cat in the name of Internet publicity.
Last year, cell phone maker Nokia denied responsibility for a clip showing a cat being spun around and flung into a wall after snaring its paw on the dangling cord of a ceiling fan.
The ad, for a camera phone sold in Australia, had been proposed by an outside agency and was immediately rejected, Nokia said.
“You don’t want to make fun of something like that,” said Evie Woods of Ferndale, a receptionist at Greenfield Animal Hospital in Southfield, who was shocked when she heard about the Sportka’s apparent hatred for felines.
“They definitely acted in poor taste. Luckily, I’m a Honda girl.”