The car giant Ford has apologised for an advert depicting former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the wheel of a car with a group of bound women in the boot.
The drawn advert, which shows three women bound and gagged in a Ford Figo car, caused uproar online and came just after India passed a new law on violence against women following the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus.
A spokeswoman for Ford India said today that the company was investigating whether the advert was approved by anyone at the car firm.
The advert was not used commercially but appeared on a website showcasing creative advertising over the weekend.
Critics accused Ford India of undermining attempts to tackle violence following a spate of high-profile attacks on women.
Featuring Ford's logo, one ad showed three women bound and gagged in the trunk of an Indian-made compact, the Ford Figo, with Berlusconi smiling from the driver's seat alongside the slogan "Leave your worries behind with the Figo's extra-large boot."
Similar ads featured Paris Hilton apparently kidnapping reality television rivals the Kardashian sisters — all three sisters tied up and one in a bikini — and Formula One driver Michael Schumacher abducting his male racing competition.
Ford said Monday that it regrets the incident, calling the images "contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford."
The ads were created at advertising agency JWT India and appeared on the website adsoftheworld.com late Friday.
"Ford India Needs to Fire Its Advertising Execs," read a headline on a slate.com blog while Indians on Twitter reacted with posts like "Disgusting!" and "SHAME."
It was unclear Monday whether anyone at Ford India had approved or seen the ads.
"We take this very seriously and are reviewing approval and oversight processes, and taking necessary steps to ensure nothing like this ever happens again," Ford spokeswoman Sethi Deepti said by email.
JWT India's CEO also condemned the ads.
"These were made as posters by individuals. They have never been paid for and were not expected to be released," he told India's Economic Times newspaper.Reuse content