Firms in Germany provoke social media controversy with anti-racism campaigns | Follow the Hashtag | DW | 22.08.2017
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Firms in Germany provoke social media controversy with anti-racism campaigns

Two separate German companies, the supermarket chain Edeka and the smoothie producer true fruits, have ignited raging debates on social media over race and immigration.

Edeka's store in Hamburger Hafencity emptied its shelves of non-German produce to show what Germany would look like without foreigners or national diversity: bare and boring, according to its owners. Meanwhile, the Bonn-based true fruits, which expanded into Austria at the turn of the year, launched its first advertising campaign in the country with a provocative set of billboards that poked fun at xenophobia and even, controversially, the recent clamp-down on refugees at the Austro-Italian border.

The timing of these two campaigns is no coincidence. Legislative elections are looming in both Germany and Austria and much of the pre-election debate has centered around the refugee crisis and the wider theme of immigration; notably, given the vast majority of refugees entering Europe are non-white, the issue of race is never far away in such conversations.

So, how did social media users respond to Edeka and true fruits wading into some of the biggest political discussions of our time? It's fair to say that the reaction was mixed, with true fruits in particular drawing criticism for the tone of its advertising.

Starting with Edeka, the supermarket chain received plenty of praise for taking a stand against xenophobia and racism. Most notably, the chairwoman of the CDU opposition in the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament, Julia Klöckner, commended the campaign for highlighting such issues in a thought-provoking and "clever" way. 

On the other hand, the Edeka store was scorned by many users, including the chairman of the AfD faction in the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament and husband of the party's head Frauke Petry, Marcus Pretzell. In the following tweet, he hits back at Klöckner and describes the stunt as "completely crazy."

Meanwhile, some users attacked the store merely for taking a political stance and trying to educate the public on a topical issue.

German smoothie company in the spotlight

Despite this criticism, one cannot fault the clarity of Edeka's anti-racism message, in stark contrast to true fruits's first set of adverts in Austria. The smoothie company produced four different billboards advertising its product range, but it was two posters in particular that sparked the most controversy, one of which is pictured in the tweet below. 

The billboard, whose caption reads "Yet more bottles from abroad" — with the word "bottles" also meaning "idiots" in German slang — shows three smoothies that together resemble the German flag, a reference to true fruits's German origins. While true fruits intended the advert to be a playful jibe at the Austrian public's supposed fear of outsiders, many users thought it insensitive given the current political climate and ongoing refugee crisis. 

Yet the above poster was relatively mild compared with another image, which in including the picture of a black bottle next to the caption "Rarely makes it over the border", goes much further in explicitly mentioning race. Although it was supposed to criticize the way in which non-white refugees are being stopped in large numbers at the Austro-Italian border, many online felt the advert was mocking the refugees themselves.

Hence the following tweet, which accuses true fruits of exceeding all "good taste."

Meanwhile, this user was so outraged that she threatened to no longer buy true fruits products. 

Thankfully for the smoothie maker, some Twitter users appreciated the posters' provocative tone and saw the adverts as mocking the politics of Austria's far-right Freedom Party of Austria, or FPÖ. 

So it would seem both Edeka and true fruits successfully exposed underlying political fault lines in Germany and Austria, albeit in quite different ways, and both companies ensured that their anti-racism campaigns will continue to arouse debate in the future.

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