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  Does a Ford SportKa commercial show a cat being decapitated?
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SportKa

Claim:   Ford SportKa commercial shows a cat being decapitated by a sunroof.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Origins:   The video clip starts innocently enough: an orange tabby strolling through a suburban neighborhood comes across a small blue automobile parked in a driveway. As the cat watches, the SportKa vehicle's sunroof enticingly slides open; the curious feline hops onto the car's hood, then runs up the windshield and pokes its head into the open sunroof the see what's inside. But what happens next is horrifying: the sunroof automatically begins to close again, trapping the cat by its neck. As the tabby struggles furiously to extricate itself, the sunroof lid slices off its head, and the viewer sees the decapitated body slide to the ground.

The video doesn't show any blood or gore; the horror comes purely from what it depicts. If the clip were intended as, say, a public service announcement warning car owners about the dangers of leaving sunroofs open, it might even be tolerable. But what has angered and outraged legions of cat fanciers is the revelation at the end of the video clip that it's an advertisement for a car — the Ford SportKa, billed as "The Ka's Evil Twin."

How could one of the world's leading automobile manufacturers be so out of touch with the public sensibilities to think that a clip showing one of its cars slicing off a cat's head would be effective (or even an acceptable) advertisement? Sometimes companies are willing to embrace the outrageous for publicity's sake, but it's hard to tell what Ford was thinking in this case — the controversy has prompted the familiar response (used by Nokia last year to disclaim a similar clip) of blaming an advertising agency for going ahead with a concept the client didn't approve and proclaiming shock that the concept was fully developed into a finished spot anyway (and then somehow "leaked" to the Internet):
Ford's European operation and Ogilvy & Mather, its advertising agency, began an investigation into how a proposed ad — which both insisted had been rejected — had begun circulating on the Internet.

The car maker said the advert was conceived as part of a "viral" campaign, where short videos are released on to the Internet and redistributed by e-mail, as people find them funny. But it insisted it was not meant to be developed. As an alternative, a clip showing a comedy pigeon being thwacked by the bonnet, had been chosen.

"It was done as a proposal somewhere deep down in the bowels of the agency," Ford said. "As soon as we saw it we said absolutely not. We are appalled — this is not something we want to be associated with."

"A full investigation has been ordered by Ford and Ogilvy to determine how this unapproved material found its way into the public domain," said a spokesman for Ford. "The action in the video clip was totally computer generated — no animal was harmed."
However, some cynics have suggested that nothing "backfired," and Ford got exactly what it wanted — an effective "viral marketing" campaign that attracted a good deal of attention to their new SportKa model through the controversy it generated:
[O]ne advertising executive insisted that Ford was protesting too much. "No publicity is bad publicity and the cynical part of me thinks that this 'leaking' was intended all along," he said. "It's got them terrific media coverage, after all."
The alternative concept supposedly chosen by Ford — a clip that shows a SportKa's hood automatically flying open to deflect (and kill) a pigeon attempting to land on it — was found scarcely less offensive by animal rights groups.

For those concerned about the cat depicted in the SportKa clip, Ford maintains: "The action in the video clip was totally computer generated, and we would like to assure you that no animal was harmed in its making."

Additional information:
    Ford SportKa clip Ford SportKa "cat" clip
    Ford SportKa clip Ford SportKa "cat" clip   (alternate site)
    Ford SportKa clip Ford SportKa "pigeon" clip
    Ford SportKa clip Ford SportKa "pigeon" clip   (alternate site)

Last updated:   7 April 2004
 
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by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson
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  Sources Sources:
    Day, Elizabeth.   "Decapitated Cat Video Backfires on Ford."
    telegraph.co.uk.   4 April 2004.

    Jay, Adam.   "City Diary."
    The Guardian.   1 April 2004.

    Mackintosh, James.   "Headless-Cat Ad Backfires on Ford."
    The Financial Times.   1 April 2004.