Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola has been forced to remove adverts in Qatar for its energy drink ‘Burn’ and issue an apology after an online backlash against “insensitive” billboards promoting the product were placed around the car park of the Villagio mall, the site of a major fire last year which killed 19 people.
The billboards, which contained the words “burn on” and a picture of the energy drink can with a flame logo, were condemned by users on internet social network sites, including Martin Weekes, the father of two-year-old triplets, who were among the 13 children that died.
“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,” Weekes said in a message posted on Coca-Cola’s Facebook page.
Coca-Cola apologised for the billboard adverts and has now ordered them to be removed.
“We can confirm that we are removing the campaign branding around the Villaggio Mall and apologise for any concern that was created by its placement. This panel in the neighbouring area of the mall was part of a network of outdoor [billboards] and was not meant to be in this location specifically where the tragedy happened,” Regional group director for Coco-Cola, Dana Bolden, sent this statement issued to Doha News.
“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,” he added.
In a new message on Facebook, Weeks thanked Coca-Cola for its “prompt & proactive response in removing the signage outside Villaggio Mall in Doha.”
A major fire broke out at the Villagio Mall at the Gympanzee day care centre on May 28, 2012. A total of 19 people were killed, including 13 children, four female teachers and two civil defence personnel.
Upon investigation, it was discovered the fire started at a sportswear outlet due to faulty electrical wiring and immediately spread to the adjacent day care centre.
A court in June sentenced five people, among them the emirate’s envoy to Belgium, to six years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Those convicted include two co-owners of the nursery and daycare centre which was engulfed by the flames, and members of the management of the mall.
Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani, one of the co-owners, is also currently Qatar's ambassador to Belgium, while Iman Al Kuwari, the other co-owner, is the daughter of Qatar's culture minister.
Advertising firm Q-Media, the government agency responsible for the billboards at Villaggio Mall, refused to comment further on the matter when contacted by Arabian Business.