Does Ogilvy need to take a moral stand on CPB border work?

WPP’s Ogilvy finds itself in hot water over a video produced for the US Customs and Border Protection agency (CPB) showing the (allegedly) civilised facilities in its Tucson facility. Ogilvy has a contract with the CPB worth a purported $12m (Accenture has one for many times that helping with recruitment.)

You can see the video here.

Ogilvy doesn’t seem to be saying anything on the record although sources say the video was produced internally. although if you have a $12m contract to buff up someone’s image the odds are that you’ll influence all such communications.

You can see why Ogilvy’s caught between a rock and a hard place. The CPB is a perfectly legal entity that, presumably, pays its bills although many people think its ‘facilities’ are concentration camps. Concentration camps were invented by the British in the Boer War of 1900-1902 to corral displaced Boers as the British pursued a scorched earth policy. Thousands died although they were not Nazi-style extermination camps.

Should Ogilvy have refused the account? Should it resign it now? Should its 11,000 employees object as employees at Google and Microsoft have recently over involvements with the Chinese and US governments? Should WPP intervene?

Adland at the moment is transfixed by “purpose” and the requirement to show it’s a diverse, liberal (with a small ‘l’) business. Such a standpoint doesn’t fit easily with some of President Trump’s initiatives (like this one) or, more generally, controlling governments or corporations anywhere.

Walking away is hardly good for business, obviously. But they do say that a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you something.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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