//** * * */

In a digitally-connected world, ‘Scam’ ads hurt brands.

First, let’s define a ‘Scam’ ad.

A scam ad is the industry term for an ad made simply for the purpose of entering it into advertising award shows. It’s made for a client without the client’s consent, and sometimes, the agency or creatives don’t even have that client on their roster.

It may run once, paid for by the agency. Many times, it never runs at all.

For decades, these scam ads have been considered at the very least an annoyance and at most, a scourge of the award show scene. Creatives could launch their careers based on these ads, sometimes commanding top positions and salaries from their publicity, over those who work on real, revenue-generating brands. That’s encouraged many to take their chances on scam ads, knowing the penalties are usually light. Many award-winning print ads for years have been ‘scam’ - never having been funded or approved by the client whose logo appears on the ad. Still, the creatives got away with it and are now enjoying the fruits of their success.

Clients and brands have never seemed to take much notice of this peculiar inside-industry practice. But this recent example of an offensive ‘Silver Cannes Lions Winner’ from a Brazilian ad agency (presumably for Kia motorcars) is exactly why they should start to.

The ad may not have run in paid media, but digital changes the game. In a digitally-connected world, it was indeed ‘running’ online, paid for or not, spreading through social media and blogs:

Kia Denies Knowledge of Pedophile Ads That Won Cannes Prize

I contacted Kia at the end of last week, thinking their PR department would quickly notice the offending ad and take measures to squash it. Today, I received the official response:

But the question is - just how much damage was already done by one agency’s desire to get famous on the back of a multinational brand that sells family sedans? And how much money will it cost that brand to repair it?

Brands should watch industry award shows closely - not only to see how creative work can effectively solve their briefs - but to protect their own brands from this happening to them as well.

As I pointed out in my previous article, clients (and our industry) need to be restructured to act faster and be more nimble. It’s the only way to ensure they can react to a world that’s already operating that way.

Otherwise, what are the consequences?

Creator of Kia pedophilia ad is the same as creator of WWF 9/11 ad
File under not surprised Kia denies the Cannes Lions winning moma ad
Cannes Lions pedophilia ad: Demand a retraction or demand a refund.

Adland® is supported by your donations alone. You can help us out by donating via Paypal.
Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
Files must be less than 1 MB.
Allowed file types: jpg jpeg gif png wav avi mpeg mpg mov rm flv wmv 3gp mp4 m4v.
Pony Tale's picture

@timogeo, scam is not the right term for it. They're called "ghosts" ads and they are for real. I personally have seen a lot of them. But I can't agree in all you've said. Rarely the brands name have effect in the creative concept or purpose. So I don't quite see the intention of choosing that brand from another.

Look at your example and ask yourself why the choose Kia and not Renault, GM, Opel or any other? Because there was something that push that brand on it. And in 99% of the cases it wasn't the Agency. The Brazilian Agencies have a long History on Ghosts and in that 1% I told about. But as you know there are multinational agencies that have ghost teams working just for prizes and lions. But usually if the creativity come out of a contest with a prize... is because it's good. And if it's good, it can't really hurt the brands notoriety.

Then you have something that must be brought into this discussion that sometimes can be mislead with agency work - I'm talking about the User Generated Content. The content that for example you produced as a user bringing this topic, or a school work made with a coca-cola ad or a pretend product launch or fake ad spoof. Al of those are out of control in this digital revolution. But not to worry! Usually who plays with your brand is your own client.


timogeo's picture

But, it's not good Joao.

As an ad, it's awful. Not just the taste issue, but strategically as well. Kia sells family sedans. To families. Not to predators.

When work like this wins, it devalues creative departments everywhere by highlighting a serious lack of understanding about actual business problems and the types of creative solutions that are needed. Contrary to what you may see in Archive or at the Cannes print show, advertising is not a parlor game.

And whatever the term is for this, I call it scam. Because it's made only to win at award shows, to defraud your peers. Still, I'm not going to judge someone based only on the practice. What my post highlights is the fact that this fake ad was promoted as being approved by the Kia brand, which is a lie. The lie then spread around the internet, believed to have been endorsed by Kia, and therefore damaged their brand.

Anyone who doesn't understand that, doesn't understand the business we're in. And sadly, many in our business don't seem to.

pulfordbrent's picture

I'd like some of the drugs you're using. This, on whatever basis you want to evaluate it, is a travesty. For one it shows that (some) advertising agencies and creatives are more interested using their work to build monuments to themselves than do what they are paid to do, grow their client's business. Second it is so totally irrelevant to the brand that it renders advertising even more of a dubious exercise than many already think it is. Until ad people stop looking at every brief as an opportunity to cultivate their own legend, the business is going to fall into greater and greater disrepute. A creative person's job is to be anonymous, to recognize that the star of whatever show he/she is charged with developing is the product or service. You want to be noticed and applauded for your work move into the entertainment business. Advertising isn't about making superstars out of copywriters and art directors it's about making superstars out of the brands they work on. Strangely, if you do that well, the notice will come regardless.

pulfordbrent's picture

For another perspective on this phenomenon visit:

Dabitch's picture

The problem stems from awards-based hires and salary bumps. How quickly things would change if the career ladder became an escalator going up only if you'd won Effies.

DMVawter's picture

The brands they hurt the most are the ones most of us work for -- the agencies. Because once the client PR guys have put out the fires with irate consumers (simply by saying this ad was fake and we had nothing to do with it), the real damage is to our credibility as individuals and as an industry. Until our "creative leaders" (you know, the guys who gave the fake Kia ad a Silver Lion and have yet to correct their mistake) have to wake up to this, we will continue to lose value in the eyes of the people who pay our salaries.

Any updates on that, by the way? I haven't heard anything about the award being withdrawn.

Dabitch's picture

Neither have I. This needs to spread further. (With 4th of July weekend now in the US, it's going to be a while)