Ads criticized for insulting Turkishness with animal heads on humans
ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News | 10/23/2009 12:00:00 AM | IŞIL EĞRİKAVUK
A recent ad campaign depicting human bodies with animal heads has caused protests from different groups around Turkey. In Eskişehir, protesters accused the ads of ‘insulting Turkishness’ and managed to suspend them from being displayed on city billboards. However, other criticism stems from purely economic concerns
It began when animal-headed humans appeared on billboards a few weeks ago asking consumers if they were “fool enough” to pay too much for a product. The ads featured a goose, a cow, a carp and a sheep, each chosen for its implication of foolishness.
The ads were designed for Germany-based electronic goods retailer Media Markt. The company said the campaign was supposed to grab people’s attention, but the responses were significantly harsher than that. Eskişehir’s Turkish Union Association spray-painted over the ads arguing that they “insult Turkishness” and managed to suspend the campaign in the city for three months.
“Turkish people are not animals. Everyone should be offended by such images,” said Nedim Ünal, president of Eskişehir’s Turkish Union Association. “Even if it is just an ad, we cannot tolerate it.”
“Animal-human juxtapositions have always been part of visual culture,” said Anita Oğurlu, an instructor at the Visual Communications Department at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. "In The Epic of Gilgamesh we see such depictions and William Wegman created photographs with dog heads juxtaposed onto people as well.
“I think the problem in this case is very much about the fear of being ‘othered’ due to growing insecurity around identity,” Oğrurlu said. “Particularly since 2001, a manufactured 'clash of civilizations' has supplemented a re-working of capitalism that builds its strength on putting people at odds with each other. This could have been one of the deep-rooted factors for why people thought these ads were insulting.”
“I think the main reason for the protests is the competitive language,” said Ferruh Uztuğ, professor at Eskişehir Anadolu University. “In Turkey, the law restricts any ad campaign from comparing its product with another. And even though this campaign doesn’t openly do that, it has such implications.”
Unlike Eskişehir’s protest, which was widely regarded as groundless, other criticisms focused more on the campaign’s competitive language. Last week, the Mersin Durable Goods Sellers’ Association held a press conference saying that the ads do not follow the rules of competition and assume that the consumer is a “fool.” In addition, a businessman who owns an electronic store in Izmir filed a court case against the company.
“The criticisms are definitely born out of competition,” Oğurlu told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “This brand is claiming that they have much cheaper prices. The people who own other brands’ franchises are concerned for their economic well-being.”
[HH] Target: Scandal
What happened in Eskişehir is far from Media Markt’s first advertising scandal. In 2006, the company ran commercials in Poland that referenced the German stereotype of Polish people as thieves, which caused a public outcry and forced the company to apologize. Similarly, a 2008 campaign in Portugal that depicted a boy scout as an idiot prompted a petition for the removal of the ad. The company’s main slogan, “I am not an idiot,” is also provocative. The slogan, which is translated as “fool” or “crazy” outside Germany, does not run in Turkey. Instead, the company uses the phrase “Number 1 in Europe.”
“We are using a guerilla strategy,” said Media Markt’s Operations Manager Nuri Topatan. “We are trying to be provocative but we never intend to offend anyone. For this campaign, we started thinking through daily expressions in Turkey – those are phrases that are often used in daily life.”
But it was not guerilla advertising, according to Oğurlu. “The term guerilla advertising is used for advertisements that do not use regular media, like billboards or newspaper. This is still a billboard ad. Its content might be challenging but it is definitely not guerilla.”
[HH] Cheaper price, cheaper labor
The campaign seems to bother other owners of electronics stores but consumers appear to respond differently. “I liked the ads,” said passerby Handan Topatan. “It captured my attention when I was on the bus the other day.” Yet there are others who disagree. “It is really disturbing,” said another passerby, Mehmet Dorukal. “I don’t like its informal language, or the pictures.”
Professor Ferruh Uztuğ said there has been too little study of the subject to make an informed comment about Turkish people’s visual readership. “We hear about these protests but we don’t really know what people think or how they read these ads,” he said.
When asked if he finds the campaign successful, Uztuğ said he thinks it is a brave attempt but its tone is risky. “Advertising is a means of cultural communication but it should be designed by considering the cultural context in which it addresses people. I think there is an exaggeration here.”
“They are doing what advertising and capitalism have to do,” said Anita Oğurlu. “Is it ethical? Not necessarily. But I could find an ethical problem with every ad campaign,” she said. “All these executives are fighting in a vicious circle. But what about the employee making less money? Where is his profit? No one seems to be concerned about that.”
[HH] Infamous ad scandals
Italian fashion brand Benetton has long been notorious for its controversial ad campaigns. Photographer and mastermind Oliviero Toscani has been criticized for focusing on taboos and portraying religious, sexual and political conflicts. Past campaigns included images such as a priest kissing a nun, a Palestinian and Israeli boy in religious clothing, and a man dying of AIDS. In Turkey, there have been similar cases as well. When a gas company used the Turkish national anthem in a campaign in 2006, the ads were banned from Turkish TV.