x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gym campaign causes fresh offence

Gym bosses had used photo of Second World War concentration camp in previous advert.

A gymnasium that caused controversy by using a picture of a Nazi concentration camp in an advertisement has attracted fresh criticism with its latest campaign.

The Middle Finger Campaign, which offers a week of free training to tackle the "obesity epidemic in Dubai", is causing outrage on social-media websites, with UAE residents calling it offensive.

The gym, which has three locations in Dubai - Al Quoz, the Meadows and Silicon Oasis - uses an image of an overweight woman giving the middle fingers to a McDonald's sign.

"It's just controversial marketing that's gotten out of hand, really loses their message which is sad," said one tweet.

Another comment on Twitter said: "Showing the middle finger gets you prison and deported!"

Phil Parkinson, the owner of the gym, said the campaign was "not intended to offend anyone".

Mr Parkinson said he had hoped people would see the gesture was "pointed firmly" at fast-food companies, which he said were "murdering people".

"Obesity is something that is really, really affecting Dubai," he said. "It's around 40 per cent here. People need to understand that fast food is killing them."

But the fitness trainer has now made sure the two fingers in the image have been pixellated to avoid further outcry.

In January, the gym used a black-and-white image of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp with the slogan: "Kiss your calories goodbye."

The image, which was one of 10 used as part of an online campaign, incited protests on Twitter and Facebook, prompting Mr Parkinson to remove them and apologise.

The current campaign, which runs under the slogan "Enough is Enough", tells its Facebook followers that "obesity ends more lives and creates more suffering than anything else on the planet", while asking people to help "rid Dubai of this monster".

The campaign does have some fans. The Lebanese expatriate Feras Barakat, 24, who has lost 13 kilograms since he started at the gym in April, said the campaign was excellent as too many people were addicted to junk food.

"It's like an awareness campaign about how bad it is for you and that it is harming us. That's the picture he wants us to see," said Mr Barakat.

He said Mr Parkinson was known for his strong words.

"We all know what he's like but we take it in a fun way," Mr Barakat said. "We don't get offended at all."

molson@thenational.ae