How Hitler in­vaded the mar­ket­ing world

A long-held taboo on us­ing Nazi im­agery to sell prod­ucts ap­pears to be weak­en­ing. Is it just ad-land’s love of shock value — or some­thing big­ger?

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES - BY ALEX KAS­RIEL

IN A SOUTH Korean television com­mer­cial, a young wo­man in a mil­i­tary trench­coat holds a sol­dier’s cap bear­ing a mo­tif of what looks like an ea­gle grip­ping a swastika. The voiceover says: “Even Hitler could not take over the East and West at the same time.” The cos­met­ics man­u­fac­turer Core­ana was later forced to with­draw this ad­ver­tise­ment for its skin serum af­ter com­plaints from the Is­raeli em­bassy in Seoul. It was not an iso­lated case. Only last month, a Ukrainian en­ergy com­pany was forced to apol­o­gise af­ter it launched a bill­board cam­paign us­ing the im­age of Adolf Hitler to threaten cus­tomers who fail to pay their gas bills on time. Ear­lier this year, a ho­tel in Bel­grade, Ser­bia, was slammed by the Anti-Defama­tion League af­ter fea­tur­ing an Adolf Hitler-themed suite, which had ap­par­ently proved a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion.

Then there was the restau­rant in Mumbai, named Hitler’s Cross, which in 2006 caused fury among the Jewish com­mu­nity in In­dia. And last year, in New Zealand, the Hell Pizza chain was forced to take down a bill­board fea­tur­ing Hitler de­liv­er­ing a sieg-heil salute while hold­ing a slice of pizza, af­ter com­plaints from the Jewish com­mu­nity.

The use of Hitler’s im­age to sell goods and ser­vices has long been taboo, par­tic­u­larly in Europe. But the grow­ing spate of ex­am­ples of the Nazi dic­ta­tor be­ing used in ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing — the latest, re­ported in the JC last week, be­ing a Ger­man agency’s ad­vert for Hut We­ber hats — sug­gests that Nazis are no longer off-lim­its.

Karen Pol­lock, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the UK-based Holo­caust Ed­u­ca­tional Trust, is dis­turbed by the new fash­ion for Hitler im­agery, par­tic­u­larly as the images tend to be hold­ing up the Führer as an icon of power and strength in coun­tries where an­tisemitism is a real threat.

“Ex­ploita­tion of the Holo­caust and Holo­caust im­agery un­der any cir­cum­stance is of­fen­sive and dis­re­spect­ful to the mil­lions of peo­ple whose fam­i­lies per­ished dur­ing this time,” she says. “In many in­stances cited, images of Hitler and the swastika ap­pear to glo­rify both his tyran­ni­cal lead­er­ship and the ter­ri­ble crimes car­ried out. When some of th­ese ex­am­ples seem to be from coun­tries where an­tisemitism is still

rife, you can only pre­sume th­ese ‘ad­ver­tis­ing ini­tia­tives’ add fuel to th­ese ugly sen­ti­ments and in­cite fur­ther ha­tred.”

Richard Brim, an ad­ver­tis­ing creative at Lon­don agency Leo Bur­nett, sug­gests that the rea­son coun­tries in East­ern Europe and the de­vel­op­ing world are us­ing such ba­sic shock tac­tics is be­cause ad­ver­tis­ers and con­sumers there are less so­phis­ti­cated than in the UK and Amer­ica.

“If you think back to the early ’90s when Benet­ton were us­ing the Ku Klux Klan and Aids vic­tims in their cam­paigns, it was the age of shock­ism,” he says. “But even then, they did it re­ally well. They were high­light­ing is­sues. If you haven’t got the brain power or the abil­ity to think and grab peo­ple’s at­ten­tion, you re­sort to gra­tu­itously con­tentious is­sues — nor­mally to do with pol­i­tics or sex — which are al­ways go­ing to get a re­ac­tion.”

Brim, who works with the gov­ern­ment to pub­li­cise mes­sages about drink-driv­ing and na­tional speed lim­its, em­pha­sises that dif­fer­ent coun­tries use dif­fer­ent ad­ver­tis­ing styles. “This par­tic­u­lar trend has hap­pened in East- ern Europe be­cause the Holo­caust is still in the men­tal­ity of the peo­ple who live there,” he says. “It could never hap­pen in the UK be­cause we are a bit more sen­si­tive. De­vel­op­ing coun­tries have not been al­lowed to talk freely for so long. They are 10 or 15 years be­hind us, so they are not as so­phis­ti­cated in what they find of­fen­sive.”

Sir John Hegarty, chair­man of Bar­tle Bogle Hegarty and vet­eran of many award-win­ning ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, be­lieves that in some cases us­ing im­agery of Hitler and the Nazis is a good way to keep the Holo­caust in the pub­lic mind.

“There are some peo­ple who are so ap­palling that the best thing you can do is laugh at them,” he ar­gues. “And by mak­ing a mock­ery of him, you keep alive the knowl­edge of Hitler. You keep him in the pub­lic do­main so peo­ple can re­mem­ber what he did.”

Hegarty in­sists that whether or not such ma­te­rial is ac­cept­able de­pends on how it is used. “We did a com­mer­cial for Sky TV and we used Joe Stalin,” he says. “Peo­ple were ap­palled at that, but ac­tu­ally it laughed at ev­ery­thing he stood for.

“An­other time, for our One 2 One cam- paign, [for­mer foot­baller] Ian Wright said he wanted to have a One 2 One with [sprinter] Jesse Owens be­cause he stood up to to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. We got footage of him run­ning in the 1936 Ber­lin Olympics, which has a lot of Nazi sym­bol­ism. In the end, we backed away from it be­cause the client felt it was of­fen­sive.

“I per­son­ally think they were wrong. He was only try­ing to say this guy stood up to racist be­liefs and he suc­ceeded. That is an ex­am­ple of peo­ple who were over­sen­si­tive and did them­selves a dis­ser­vice. There’s a dan­ger here that we be­come over­sen­si­tive to things.”

He adds: “But I would ques­tion some of the ads. One is of­ten try­ing to shock peo­ple to get at­ten­tion so you have got to ques­tion their mo­tives. But in a free so­ci­ety there should be free de­bate, al­though as ad­ver­tis­ers we should be so­cially re­spon­si­ble. The prin­ci­ple of say­ing ‘you can’t talk about this per­son’ is wrong. Push­ing Hitler un­der­ground by not al­low­ing him to be used means he be­comes a per­se­cuted fig­ure and we sym­pa­thise with vic­tims.

“Re­duc­ing the man to a pizza sales­man is about right. It ridicules him. I do get wor­ried when I see cen­sor­ship. Of course, that is ul­ti­mately what Hitler wanted.”

The Hitler suite ( above) at Bel­grade’s Mr Pres­i­dent de­signer ho­tel. The own­ers say the £100-a-night room is much in de­mand among Ger­man, Croat and Slove­nian guests; and ( left) a bar in Bu­san, South Korea, one of sev­eral in the coun­try named af­ter the Nazi leader


From top:

A news­pa­per ad­vert for the Nu­laid egg com­pany in South Africa; the Hitler’s Cross restau­rant at Kharghar, near Mumbai in In­dia; a bill­board for New Zealand’s Hell Pizza chain; and the Ser­vi­ce­plan ad­ver­tis­ing agency’s ad for the Hut We­ber hat com­pany in Ger­many, which fea­tures sketches of Hitler and Char­lie Chap­lin

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