Advertisement powerhouse Ogilvy & Mather has apologized for its recent campaign featuring a cartoon version of teenaged Pakistani education activist and award-winning influencer Malala Yousafzai. Malala, a blogger, student, and outspoken champion for young women’s right to education, was shot on October 9, 2012 as she made her way home from school, after Taliban leaders voted that she should be killed. She survived, and continued to speak out on behalf of young women.
The ad in question, for Indian mattress retailer Kurl-on, features an illustrated version of Malala as she is shot in the head. Blood streams from her wound as she plummets toward a Kurl-on mattress. She then “bounces back,” as per the campaign’s tagline, to receive accolades for her activism.
Here’s the “bounce back” ad featuring a wounded and bleeding Malala (Warning before you scroll: As described above, the image depicts, in illustrated form, Malala being shot, and may be considered graphic and upsetting):
A senior partner for the firm told The Huffington Post that they “deeply regret this incident and want to apologize to Malala Yousafzai and her family,” adding that they “are investigating how our standards were compromised in this case and will take whatever corrective action is necessary.” The letter to HuffPost goes on to explain that the ad was created in the company’s India office, and that it had to run in any paid media.
Earlier, an executive at Lamano Estudio, a Chilean illustration studio that helped design the ad, had expressed concern to HuffPost that the image of a wounded Malala would be “the only thing that sticks with you after seeing the ad.” Which: yes. Good instincts. A bleeding teen does tend to slightly offset the bounciness of a brand-new mattress.
The question that kept popping up on Twitter surrounding this story was “how could this happen?” And not rhetorically, either. Really, HOW does a pitch meeting go from “let’s sell mattresses” to “let’s feature an image of a famous teen activist bleeding from the head after being shot by an AK-47”? This is how we imagined it went down:
FANCY EXEC: Alright, folks. Mattresses. What ya got for me?
SCHMANCY EXEC: I’m thinking… Bed. Sleep. Rectangle. Sweat-drenched lovemaking on a stolen Tuesday afternoon with an escort grad student who steals your cufflinks for Xanax money. Duvets. I’m thinking springs. Fabric. Bounciness.
FANCY: Yes! Bounciness! “Bounce back.” Bounce back from adversity. We’ll go with Steve Jobs. We’ll go with Gandhi. Ok, I need more bounce. More bounce. Go with it, go with it.
SCHMANCY: Uh, uh, ok, ok… I’m thinking. I’m thinking bounce. I’m thinking trampoline. I’m thinking moonboots. I’m thinking bullets bouncing off heads.
FANCY: YES! Yes! Whose head, whose head?
SCHMANCY: Someone iconic, someone inspirational. Um, um, ok, inspirational heads. I’m thinking an activist–
FANCY: –make ‘em young, gotta make ‘em young. We’ve already got two old dudes.
SCHMANCY: I’m thinking… inspirational bikini-clad gymnast. I’m thinking iconic pro-Hooters activist. I’m thinking influential naked female age 18-26.
FANCY: Wait, no.
NANCY: What about Malala Yousafzai?
FANCY & SCHMANCY: YES!!!