Katjes′ Muslim ads: Where′s the beef? | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 19.02.2018
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Katjes' Muslim ads: Where's the beef?

German confectioner Katjes' use of an apparently Muslim woman to sell its new line of vegan chewing gum has set off a social media storm in Germany. But who exactly is up in arms and over what?

When Katjes started in January to advertize some of its wares specifically with observant Muslims in mind, few foresaw the vitriol that would come the German confectioner's way. Or perhaps, as some suggested, that was its goal?

The usual suspects wheeled themselves out to attack and defend, although oddly, it has been Muslim women who are most often defended, by both far-right nationalists and by feminists, both claiming to speak for the voiceless victims.

Some Muslim women, when actually asked, meanwhile, saw some encouraging signs in the advertising campaign.

And if sales are anything to go by – and, well, they are – Katjes has not taken a hit so far.

The campaign – prepared by PR agency Antoni – shows half-Turkish, half-Serb Vicidca Petrovic's face under a hijab. It was reportedly inspired by the success of L'Oreal's shampoo advertising using hijab-wearing model Amena Khan, but while she is a Muslim and wears a hijab in everyday life, Petrovic isn't and doesn't. And that for some is clearly important.

Muslim women face a strongly secular German society (Imago/R. Peters)

Muslim women face a strongly secular German society

Antoni's PR representative Henning Bermann said the company would prefer not to comment on the campaign or the ensuing furore.

Consumerism, I'll buy into that

Katjes said the campaign was motivated by simple commercial considerations and reflected the modern age's need to target certain demographics and use social media to hone in on potential consumers.

"The ads perfectly reflect the diversity of the target group: young, trend-conscious women who enjoy being aware of their diet and consciously snacking veggies," Katjes said in a statement.

Read more: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about

When asked about the religion of the model used the company declined to comment. "The key thing in the selection of the model was her self-confident great charisma," the statement reads.

Petrovic herself has sought to stay out of the storm, posting a photo with a Christmas tree and presents from a family celebration in Berlin on her Instagram profile. "It's my job and I can motivate girls to be stronger," she wrote.

Chew on that, baby

The subject has provided the usual fertile terrain for all sides of the divide, from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) to feminists and Muslim protesters.

The AfD has called it oppression of women and argued that it contributes to the creeping Islamization of Germany.

Read more: Over 200 attacks on Muslims in first quarter of the year in Germany

AfD MP Frank Pasemann was quick to respond with a boycott call on Twitter: "What should this ad say to us? Maybe only hijab wearers should buy this product?"

'Fake Muslim'/'Racial capitalism'

On the other side, confusion also appeared to reign. She is a "fake Muslim" and this is "racial capitalism," the German Muslim convert supporter Martin Lejeune wrote.

Others were far more sanguine.

Marketing expert Oliver Drost said the idea was in principle not a bad one, but needed to be handled carefully. "It is a good idea to advertize with a headscarf-wearing model for vegan, and thus halal-suitable foods, but the company also needs to listen," he said.

Yes, that's true, but not much new there, another commentator sighed.

Afghanistani Muslim Brekhna Saber, a professional living in Germany, said the campaign was encouraging. "My three children always ask if sweet things have animal fats in them and now we know," she said.

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