x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Messing with history

The first rule of advertising is to get people's attention. The second rule? Offend as few people as possible.

The first rule of advertising is to get people's attention. The advertising agency tasked with promoting Polish telecommunications company Polska Telefonia Cyfrowas' youth-orientated Heyah brand certainly did that - but not in a good way.

The admen employed a caricature of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the father of Russian communism, in their campaign, which carried the slogan "Keep talking!" According to London's Daily Telegraph, it was meant to invoke the Soviet Union's promise of egalitarianism by highlighting the mobile-phone operator's low rates.

But the communist era wasn't particularly pleasant for many Poles, and those old enough to remember took offence. Indeed, the head of the Institute of National Remembrance, Lukasz Kaminski, wrote an open letter to the company complaining that the ads had created positive associations with "one of the biggest criminals of the 20th century", responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Poles. After about 1,000 complaints, the Heyah campaign was withdrawn.

It would seem that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it - on billboards and television commercials in this case - until they are called out by those who know better.