Add this to the list of cultural minefields companies would do well to avoid: Henkel, a German consumer goods company, has pulled a toilet freshener from the Eastern European market three days after complaints from Ukraine first surfaced. The Bref Duo Stick, with its blue and yellow bands, apparently bears too strong a resemblance to the Ukrainian flag.
The decision follows a flood of angry feedback on Henkel's Facebook page, which included one graphic showing the German flag in a toilet bowl. (Henkel had not been marketing the product in Ukraine). The commercial below, which aired on Russian TV and has been preserved for posterity on YouTube, shows the flag-like freshener being applied to the inside of a toilet bowl.
"We are very sorry if people were offended by the design of our new product," Tore Birol, Henkel's general manager for laundry and home care products in Ukraine, told Reuters. "We stopped the production, distribution and television advertising (of the product)."
For those who are curious, the blue color on the Ukrainian flag symbolizes the sky, while yellow represents the country's wheat fields. As for the Bref Duo Stick, Birol told Reuters that the product's blue color was meant to "symbolize water and hygiene" while yellow was meant to represent its lemon scent. (It's worth noting that Ukrainians aren't entirely lacking in the toilet-humor department; a museum recently opened in the country highlighting the broken promises of President Viktor Yanukovych, and it features a golden toilet as one of the main exhibits.)
The Henkel Affair comes shortly after Jared Hasselhoff, the bass guitarist for the American band Bloodhound Gang, appeared to urinate on the Ukrainian flag during a concert in Kiev on July 30. (Hasselhoff later insulted Russia by sticking the Russian flag in his pants.)
Hasselhoff has since been banned from entering Ukraine for five years. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov went a step further on Twitter, writing, "These people must be banned from entering Ukraine forever." Now, it seems, the same fate has befallen the Bref Duo Stick.
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