Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

EU learns perils of viral communication

  • Yellow and attractive Europe in the background, Sultan's feet (after levitation) in foreground (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission was left red-faced on Tuesday (6 March) after a video clip meant to promote the benefits of enlargement was interpreted by several viewers as being xenophobic.

The short clip, entitled 'growing together', features an attractive woman, representing a peaceful Europe. She looks on in something like exasperation as three burly men enter the desolate building where she is standing and prance about aggressively.

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An Asian man springs from the rafters dressed in martial arts gear, a turbaned-Sultan levitates with a long curved sword and a dread-locked black man kicks down the door and somersaults over to her.

Whereupon 'Europe', dressed head-to-toe in yellow, takes a deep breath and multiplies herself so she is surrounding them. Then they all sit in a big circle. The many Europes on the outside and the three would-be aggressors in the middle. After which the three men disappear and the woman - all 12 of her - morphs into the stars of the European Union flag.

The clip ends with the line "the more we are the stronger we are," alluding to the fact that EU is going to take on its 28th member this year (Croatia), and several more countries are due to enter in future.

Costing €127,000 to make, and approved by officials in the commission's enlargement department, the short ad was designed for audiences of 16-24 years and is supposed to portray enlargement positively.

But the message went awry.

Several viewers suggested the ad is xenophobic. In the few short days it was up, it even developed its own sub-narrative under which the three men were purportedly representing the so-called Brics countries - China, Brazil and India - the EU's geopolitical rivals.

The commission says the characters were chosen to represent the martial arts genres Kung Fu, Capoeira and Kalaripayattu.

"It started with demonstration of their skills and ended with all characters showing their mutual respect, concluding in a position of peace and harmony," said a statement.

"The clip was absolutely not intended to be racist and we obviously regret that it has been perceived in this way."

It has now been removed.

The misstep came after the commission recently won praise for another enlargement clip - this time targeting an older audience - which sought to dispel myths that Europeans have about another.

Peter Stano, enlargement spokesperson, admitted that it is difficult to anticipate how people are going to perceive such an ad, particularly as neither the audience nor the message can be controlled and social networks means word - good or bad - spreads instantly.

Referring to the film as internet Kill Bill, after the eponymous film, he indicated that the those who were "not meant to be the target group" were the ones complaining most vociferously.

"We have to think about this internally and see what is the best way forward. Because it is necessary to be informed about Europe."

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