KT&G's new cigarette, "This Africa," has ignited criticism for its package and advertisements that portray a monkey roasting tobacco. / Korea Times
By Jung Min-ho
KT&G's newest cigarette, "This Africa," is touching off fierce controversy for its package that portrays monkeys roasting tobacco leaves. Alarmed by the wave of criticism, the country's largest tobacco company told the Korea Times it will change the advertisement for the cigarettes by the end of the month, although it has no plans to change the package.
The current advertisement for This Africa shows the same monkey in a suit with other monkeys roasting tobacco leaves under a sentence that reads "Africa's traditional way of production is garnering a lot of attention."
The African Tobacco Control Alliance, a Pan-African tobacco control organization, also released a statement to ask KT&G to pull the brand, noting the members "are deeply offended by KT&G's shameless and insulting use of this mocking imagery."
Consumers here found This Africa discomforting as well. Zambian Mirriam Simasiku, who lives in northern Seoul with her Korean spouse and children, said "it's extremely offensive in all respects," noting that the advertisement is another addition to the racist, "Africa, the home of the monkeys" bandwagon.
"According to those images, Africans are just a bunch of uneducated monkeys," she said. "We as Africans are still a minority against a multitude of pure Koreans with no law to protect us. By the way, it is named This Africa, which is inappropriate since no one thought of making any connection."
Describing a monkey as human is "blatantly racist and depreciative" especially in the region that went through colonial humiliations under Europeans' rule for many years, said an official from an international organization, who didn't want his or his group to be named.
"Anyone who has the most basic knowledge of the painful history of the African continent during the slave trade should know the justification of which the European colonialist worked under," the official said.
"People from the African continent were considered as sub humans that had the knowledge and capabilities of monkeys. How selfish it is if you think about how easily we Koreans are enraged with the slightest belittlement of our background and culture from other countries?"
With the torrent of complaints, KT&G decided to replace the advertisement with a new one by the end of October.
"The negative reactions were totally unexpected as nobody raised the racism issue during the design process," said an assistant manager at KT&G's public relations office.
"To calm controversy, caused by the company's unintended message, KT&G is making a new advertisement."
However, she said the company currently has no plans to change the cigarette's package or name.
He stressed that foreign experts were involved in the designing of the package, including graphic artist Papaboule, and designers from Korean fashion magazine Cracker Your Wardrobe.
"It seriously harmed my view of KT&G," said an official from the international organization.
"I actually had a positive image of the company thanks to Sangsang Madang and other social projects associated with youth before. But a single grain of rice can tip the scales. It's just a matter of time before KT&G gets the full impact of the fire they have ignited unless all the other Africans out there really find humor and delight in this product."
This isn't the first time a Korean company has got in trouble for "racist advertisements."
Korean Air removed an offensive advertisement that described Kenyans as having "primitive energy" with an apology after receiving massive criticism from Kenyans on social media.