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Adding a bit of diversity in your ads by choosing models from minorities has been a go-to move by most brands for the past decade, but it's beginning to backfire more often than not.
Mathem, a Swedish delivery service of groceries, was currently running this ad on social media, showing a woman in a hijab solving her busy life by ordering food from the app.
But at the same time, several women have been killed for protesting the compulsory hijab in Iran. A national revolt, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for wearing her hijab "wrong" by the "morality police" and beaten to death while in custody, has spread across the country with women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair off. The unrest and protest have lasted for five weeks now, with many women killed and hurt. Most recently Iranian sports climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without her hijab and has since been forced to leave early, as worry grows about her disappearance since.
It's with that in mind we see this ad, where a woman notes she's "late for work - but has time to shop groceries on Mathem"
In Sweden the ninth largest immigrant group is Iranians, 116,000 individuals have a background in Iran, 63,828 of those people were born in Iran and quite a large percentage of that group fled the Khomeini regime.
As you can imagine, hijabs are not popular among them. That is a lot of people to potentially piss off.
As expected, when this ad made the rounds, prominent Swedish Iranians and feminists protested loudly on social media about how incredibly tone-deaf this ad is.
"Women in Iran are murdered for fighting for their rights to not wear hijab," Faw Azzat said. "Mathem meanwhile: (image)"
She added: "Tired of the normalization of this sexist, religious and political symbol by marketing departments that don't know any better."
Eventually, the tweet-protests got so loud they reached the Mathem marketing department and Expressen now reports that they have taken the ad down. Mathem's official Twitter account also responded directly to Fazz with this explanation:
Mathem takes a stand against all forms of pressure. We exist for all people in society. The advertising that appears was produced several months ago. Due to what is happening right now in Iran, however, we understand that it can be perceived as tone deaf, and will therefore take it down.
But replies to that weren't impressed. One explained: "Hijab is not a skin disease or a functional variation. It is a voluntary, demonstrative mark AGAINST the values and lifestyle of the secular and egalitarian society in which you or your parents have been given sanctuary."
Another retorted: "It has been going on since 1979.
You have been tone-deaf for far longer than a few months - together with Swedish governments and a hysterical woke society that turned a blind eye to it all the time and called all whistleblowers racists."
Expressen asked Mathem's spokesperson Lotta Olofsson for clarification: "Do you, like many of those who criticized the ad, consider that the veil/hijab is a symbol of Islamist women's oppression?"
Lotta Olofsson replied: "It is not Mathem's business to decide how people should dress. We stand for diversity and exist for all people in society, and that is also what we want to communicate with our advertisement."
It's high time that advertisers understand that diversity can be dividing, and "standing for" anything other than selling your wares can not only be a waste of advertising money but directly brand damaging.