Advertisements for the energy drink Burn, which had been posted on billboards around Villaggio mall, have been removed following an online furor over their placement, advertising company Q.Media has told Doha News.
Photos of the posters – which occupy prominent positions in the mall’s car park – had been widely shared on Facebook and Twitter, leading to an outcry from concerned residents, and public appeals from relatives of the victims of last year’s tragic fire at Villaggio.
Reacting to the comments, both Coca-Cola and the advertising agency in question, Q.media Decaux, told Doha News that the adverts would be removed.
Regional group director for Coco-Cola, Dana Bolden, sent this statement:
“We can confirm that we are removing the campaign branding around the Villaggio Mall and apologize for any concern that was created by its placement.
This panel in the neighboring area of the mall was part of a network of outdoor and was not meant to be in this location specifically where the tragedy happened.
We will ensure we have a more thorough review process in place going forward. We like to thank those who contacted us to make us aware of this issue and will always work with our consumers to ensure we live up to their expectations.”
Coca-Cola also confirmed that the mall has no control over the content of the billboards, which are owned by Q.media Decaux and contracted directly by Coca-Cola’s media buying agency.
Villaggio did not respond to a request for comment.
“On the 28th May 2012 a fire caused by gross corporate negligence in Villaggio Mall killed 13 children, 4 teachers and 2 firemen. Three of those children were mine – Lillie, Jackson & Willsher triplets aged 2, and another, Zeina, was from Atlanta, your Coca Cola’s home town.
We no longer live in Doha as the memories are too painful, however I was contacted overnight by a friend with a photo of an ad campaign for your energy drink Burn being promoted outside the mall where the fire occurred. Please remove this as it is totally insensitive.”
By this afternoon, his post garnered nearly 200 comments, many in support of his call for the removal of the adverts.
The issue has also been publicized by Qatar resident Kirsty Rice, author of popular expat blog “4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle.” In a post titled “Why I Won’t Be Going to Villaggio,” she explained why she hasn’t visited the mall since the fire, and called for a boycott until the posters are removed:
“Make a stand. Tell them no. Let them know that yes we will move forward, but we will never forget.”
Not the first
Coca-Cola is not the first company to be accused of insensitivity in its mall advertising following the fire.
When the damaged section of the mall re-opened in June this year, a hoarding outside the new Reebok store – close to the site of the daycare facility Gympanzee, where 19 people died – provoked many complaints before also being removed.
In June, a Doha court found five people guilty of involuntary manslaughter leading to the deaths of 19 people at the mall. Those convicted are appealing the verdict, which carries five to six years of jail time.
In the interim, their insurance companies were ordered to pay some QR200,000 in blood money compensation per victim, but despite the judge’s ruling, and an enforcement order filed by the victims’ families in August, the payment has not been awarded.
Although defendants were summoned to court last month to explain the delay, none of them turned up, so the judge postponed the hearing until Nov. 14.
The five people who were convicted are also due in court for their first appeals hearing this month.