WPP should honour those who died in the Falklands

There are many reasons why Y&R’s spot for the Argentine Government, filmed in the Falkland Islands, is wrong. Aside from being completely the opposite to the spirit of the Olympic ideal (and one that is being expensively espoused at the moment by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R in the UK), it is also hugely disrespectful to the 255 members of the British armed forces and three Islanders who died in the bloody conflict.

The scene where the Argentine athlete exercises on a memorial to British soldiers of an earlier war is particularly gut-wrenching.

To his credit, the WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell was quick to denounce the ad once it had become apparent that his Y&R agency in Buenos Aires was behind the stunt. The network is also pleading, without success so far, for the Argentine Government to pull the spot.

But the fact remains the damage has been done – old sores have been opened, particularly for Falklands veterans, and politicians have become involved escalating the offensive ad to a diplomatic issue.

For a man who is said to be an expert at micro-management the fact that Y&R Buenos Aires felt that it could go ahead and make this ad, despite being part of a UK-based agency network and therefore presumably aware of the embarrassment it would cause the ultimate boss, Sorrell’s anger is understandable.You could argue that it shows a lack of respect from the management at Y&R Buenos Aires for its pay-master.

Given that WPP as a whole is set to benefit from the Olympics across its range of clients, and the widespread offence that this outpost of Y&R has caused, surely the tenure of this team is unsustainable. It might also be a welcome gesture if WPP made some public act of contrition by donating to a Forces charity – the South Atlantic Medal Association or Combat Stress, for example – to help those still affected by their part in liberating the Islands from occupation.

The need for this is even more apparent when you consider that a WPP agency – JWT – has recently been hired to handle recruitment for the British Army, many of whom will serve protecting the democratic wishes of Falkland Islanders.

  • mark palmer

    Jez. Good piece – not least in being so to the point.  It’s clearly a bad judgement call from where we are. I imagine the perspective from Argentina is different.  The reality is also that whilst it is an own goal for WPP. It also shows in Sir Martin Sorrell dealing with it personally, quickly and so directly is a realisation of what the reality is for more and more the reality. Any CEO must deal and manage the brand always.  He can’t let the brand values or circle or triangle that has been developed internally or by an agency ever become the answer. He has to own responsibility for the brand in real time. He can’t delegate answers and he cannot delay. 

    Also – much as it may be distressing that Y & R Argentina have gone rogue – there is also something positive about it.  If WPP had got to the point where its agencies were following a script, or a way to behave, it would also mean that the willingness to take risks and do what you believe would also not be in WPP’s agency culture. It also shows the truth in agencies representing their clients. The moment that Y & R starts thinking about what JWT needs to do for its client – then compromise and the passion to focus on your client goes too.

     Horrendous cock up yes. A big mistake yes. Offensive to a lot of people – no doubt. But if you want to have a culture of innovation and creativity you will also get huge cock ups every now and again. 
    We should all be allowed to cock up and then legitimately say sorry. It is preferable in my mind to being conservative (small c) with the truth and then covering it up. A trend that more common these days. For all that this is an issue for WPP – it also shows a lot of integrity.


    But Mark, it wasn’t a cock-up. Or a mistake. I would imagine it was produced by people who fervently and honestly believed in it. And still do. I’m sure many of those working at Y&R Argentina believe the islands to be theirs and the advert to be a fine piece of patriotic propaganda. It did not deviate from the norms of what is acceptable to Argentine society, whatever we may think of it. That’s very different to the situation where someone in the UK comes up with a crass idea that’s morally unacceptable to most of us here.

    For me it demonstrates how weak and powerless advertising is when faced by real power. Sir Martin Sorrell is a decent and intelligent bloke, but in a world of realpolitik, as represented by the Falklands dispute, no-one really cares what advertising folk think and will carry on regardless pursuing their respective political goals. As they are doing.

    His is a worldwide group that inevitably will be creating material in one culture that is unacceptable to other cultures in which WPP operates as there is no worldwide consensus on morality, ethics, politics, religion etc etc. Maybe he should be bracing himself for more apologies once he checks the output from some of his agencies around the world?

    However, as Jeremy suggests, it would be a good idea for WPP to donate a sum to forces charities helping those who suffered in the Falklands War. Without them, we would not even be having this debate. I think that would be a far more appropriate gesture than an apology on behalf of people who, I guess, are probably not that sorry.

  • martin bowley

    Your best piece ever.

  • ChrisJReed

    A very British response from you all…the empire is gone lads get over it. Chris is the only one who has given a more measured response. Jeremy you myopically seem to have forgotten that 649 Argentinean soldiers also died in the conflict. Are their lives worth less than British ones?

    The clue to the ownership of the islands is where there are located…..if you applied the British view of ownership, that you landed their first but didn’t actually settle, then half of Asia/the Americas would also still be British. They are not for very good reasons. The islands are no more British than the Isle of Man is Argentinean. 

    WPP Argentina have as much right to create this kind of passionate campaign as UK agencies have of creating patriotic and often xenophobic campaigns in the UK to appeal to a UK audience. As Chris rightly said, this was not a mistake, they meant and mean even word of it. Why should they apologise? They believe the islands are Argentinean.  Currently they are not but maybe one day they will be…..

    • Jeremy Lee

      You’re an idiot

  • ChrisJReed

    That’s creative!

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