German Firm Defends Subway Restaurant Press Kit

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT

( - The German company responsible for a controversial ad campaign for Subway restaurants claims the images used in the campaign are appropriate and do not represent an anti-American bias. Two cartoon images are responsible for the flap - one depicting a giant cheeseburger crashing into twin towers and another depicting a bloated Statue of Liberty holding a hamburger and French fries.

The controversy began last week when it was revealed that German Subway restaurants were lining food trays with advertisements for "Super Size Me," a film that follows a man's weight gain after eating exclusively at McDonald's for one month.

The tray liners featured the cartoon of the Statue of Liberty, her torch and book replaced with a hamburger and French fries.

Another cartoon image, included in "nourishment diaries," and available in at least one Munich restaurant, depicts a giant cheeseburger smashing into twin skyscrapers. A cartoon character running away from the skyscraper ruins is wearing a cowboy hat. The cartoon reminds some Americans of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

The "food diaries" encourage customers to record what they eat for 30 days. They are part of a German press kit for the "Super Size Me" film.

Sylvia Selbert of Prokino, the company that created the tray liners, told that "we were contacted by one of the Subway franchisees [in Germany] ... and he asked us if we wanted to have this cooperation with them.

"We both thought this was a nice idea because Subway is in the movie as well," she said. "Then we created these tray liners with the fat Statue of Liberty and they have their logo on it, which says 'Subway, Eat Fresh.'"

She said the Amsterdam headquarters of Subway got approval for the tray liner design from Subway headquarters in the United States.

The tray liners were distributed in about 100 Subway restaurants in Germany until early this week, when the company pulled them amid complaints from the U.S. based Center for Individual Freedom.

Marshall Manson from the Center for Individual Freedom commended the restaurant chain for its swift action. Subway "initiated a dialogue with us, in which they apologized and took responsibility ... and we very much applaud and appreciate that response," he said.

As for the press kit containing the food diaries and the cartoon image of the giant cheeseburger smashing into twin towers, Subway spokesmen insist it was never part of their promotion and was never made available to customers.

"It wasn't part of the Super Size Me promotions we did in the stores," Subway spokesman Kevin Kane said. "It's nothing that was ever distributed or provided to Subway restaurants."

Les Winograd, another spokesman for the sandwich company, said Subway headquarters in the United States contacted the German stores, which claim "they've never even seen it (the press kit/nourishment diary)."

Selbert confirmed that information in an interview with .

"Those were for journalists and they were never made available at the Subway stores," she said. But she could not explain how a customer at a Munich Subway obtained one.

Selbert said her company was surprised to see images from the press kit popping up on Internet sites.

"Our approach towards "Super Size Me" and towards the movie was and still is an ironical one," she explained. "The movie is ironical and it's funny ... and this is how we tried to market it even for the press - and it works."

Selbert said it never crossed her mind that people might consider the image of the cheeseburger and twin towers offensive. "We thought about Godzilla and we thought about King Kong and those things. And we never had a single thought about September 11 when our graphic artist made it," she said.

Selbert added that in Germany, the image "definitely is [appropriate] because the people in Germany do understand what we want to say and that we do not want to offend anybody."

However, she said she now understands why Americans might be offended, "if you take it out of the [context of the] press book."

Other images in the press kit/nourishment diary include a fanged Ronald McDonald eating people like French fries, obese caricatures of superheroes Batman and Robin (Pigman and Robby), a 12-stripe American flag with the field of stars replaced by a hamburger and a Japanese sumo wrestler fighting a giant hamburger.

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