Amazon to remove controversial Nazi-themed adverts for High Castle
James R | On 25, Nov 2015
Amazon has decided to take down its Nazi-themed adverts from the New York subway, following a widespread backlash.
Passengers travelling to work in the city this week were greeted with the sight of the American flag emblazoned with the Nazi Reichsadler eagle on one side of the train – and, on the other side, a modified version of the flag for World War II-era Imperial Japan.
The images were part of a major marketing push from Amazon to support its new original series, The Man in the High Castle. Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, the show is set in an alternate history in which the Axis powers won WWII, with America ruled by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
The shuttle train from 42nd Street was plastered in iconography related to the show as part of an overall public transport campaign, with subway benches and the outside of the train also advertising the show. The campaign started in November with 260 subway station posters, according to MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg, while the wrap on the shuttle (inside and out) was set to run from 15th November for 30 days.
The response, though, was – unsurprisingly – negative.
“Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design,” Ann Toback told Gothamist, who reported the negative response on Monday. “So I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didn’t want to stare at it.”
The campaign was coordinated for Amazon by OUTFRONT Media, who originally said they had received no complaints, with the work passing both its own internal review and meeting the standards of the MTA.
But while critics of the campaign pointed out they had no issue with the TV show itself, they highlighted the lack of sensitivity surrounding the adverts.
Evan Bernstein, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, argued that context was crucially absent.
“On the television program, which explains this is the notion of an America controlled by Hitler, you get that context. On the train, seeing the American flag paired with a Nazi symbol is viscerally offensive, because there is no context as to what it means. The fact that the flag is spread across the seats only compounds the effect. This ad campaign has a feel of exploiting things that are so sensitive to so many people.”
— Katherine Lam (@byKatherineLam) November 23, 2015
Since then, the backlash has grown, with Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday demanding that the campaign be taken down.
“While these ads technically may be within MTA guidelines, they’re irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. “Amazon should take them down.”
Now, Variety confirms that Amazon has relented and decided to remove the ads from the subway shuttle.
The furore follows similar controversy in the UK, with the Guardian taking the rare decision to pulp its supplement, The Guide, last weekend, due to its use of Nazi imagery (relating to Amazon’s show) within the cover art.
With such a provocative subject matter at its core, is it surprising that The Man in the High Castle’s aggressive advertising tactics have caused such a response? It’s hard to imagine that the company would not have foreseen it. In the meantime, causing controversy has sparked international headlines in the media. It’s hard to imagine that wasn’t foreseen either.
All episodes of The Man in the High Castle are available to watch on Amazon Prime Video now. Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here – or read our interview with the show’s star, Rufus Sewell.