WWF Condemns Offensive Ad

Tasteless… Appalling… Exploitive… Brutally Obtuse or Powerfully Clever?

Dubbed ‘the Tsunami ad’, created by DDB Brazil, includes an image portraying a swarm of planes descending in attack upon the World Trade Center in New York City. The print ad wore the tagline, “the 2004 Tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11”, along with the final line, “The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it” — accompanied by the WWF logo. Just in time for the 9/11 anniversary.

Such an ad runs counter to the philosophy and policies of the World Wildlife Fund. According to WWF, the concept for ‘the Tsunami ad’ was pitched to its branch office in Brazil (WWF Brazil) by DDB Brazil in late 2008, but was summarily rejected for obvious reasons.

Case closed. Or so it appears.

Not only was the ad entered into a “public service” competition in Manhattan, but it also emerged as a TV advertisement. The blogosphere came alive condemning ‘the Tsunami ad’. WWF issued a press release yesterday, apologizing to all who have been offended. “It is an unauthorized use of our logo and we are aggressively pursuing action to have it removed from websites where it is being currently featured.”

Now, if you try to read the taglines objectively, you can understand DDB Brazil’s concept. They attempted to convey the parallels and impact of 9/11 and an environmental calamity such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that hit Thailand — physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

However, ‘the Tsunami ad’ of DDB Brazil failed in both rational appeal and emotional impact, to say the least: The science of global warming is not directly related to the science of plate tectonics and earthquakes. While it’s true that people choose to do, or not do, something (though most of us would argue the former) about global warming, the underlying message of ‘the Tsunami ad’ is completely lost on people with even a shred of sensitivity and compassion.

Some in the advertising world may look at the DDB Brazil ad as quite clever given its shock value and the viral nature of the Internet. Judging from the backlash, it seems the net is still democratic, people with a sense of what’s right and what’s simply wrong. The DDB Brazil campaign went down in flames.

There’s hopefully enough fire in people to push our leaders to make a commitment on the next phase of Kyoto in Copenhagen this December.

Someone unearthed the video ad and posted it on AdWeek’s blog. At the risk of further propagating a bad campaign, watch the ‘the tsunami ad’ as it certainly demonstrates what not to do. (It will likely be taken down in a matter of time)

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