PARSIPPANY, N.J. – Telecom giant Verizon has drawn the ire of the Ukrainian community in the United States and around the world with its offensive advertisement that showed a couple channel-surfing, and complaining that anything would be better to watch than Ukrainian dancing.
The advertisement on its website has been modified (replacing the Ukrainian dancers with a pottery demonstration and a wildlife documentary) since a campaign was launched by the Ukrainian members demanding that Verizon remove the ad and issue a formal apology.
The ad, believed to be created by McCann Advertising Agency (which, incidentally, has an office in Kyiv for Verizon), has sparked a “Shame on Verizon” Facebook page that has attracted more than 2,500 followers.
Many are sending in 10- to 30-second video clips with the hashtag #AnythingButVerizon and nominating another person(s) for the challenge, while including their city and country. People have uploaded videos to YouTube with the hashtags #AnythingButVerizon and #Help Ukraine, and are sharing them on social media. Offended individuals have written directly to Verizon asking the company to remove the advertisement, issue a public apology and donate to help Ukraine.
The controversial ad features Rashida Jones from the television series “Office” and “Parks & Recreation,” who pleads to have the channel changed from airing Ukrainian dancers, uttering “I’ll watch anything except this.”
Some Ukrainians have taken to Verizon’s FIOS Facebook page and Twitter feed to express their disgust at Verizon’s choice to belittle Ukrainian culture in its advertising.
In a letter to Verizon posted to the Brooklyn Ukrainian Group’s Yahoo group page, Irene Jarosewich, former editor-in-chief of Svoboda, wrote: “Ukrainian dancers. Really? This is what the great marketing talents at Verizon have chosen to present as the bottom-of-the-barrel viewing, except for termites burrowing wood?
“Besides the desire to scream in disbelief ‘have you got xxxx for brains or what??!!’ – I’ll refrain and simply say that whoever produced this ad – whoever vetted this ad – must be fired.
“Choosing any ethnic or cultural element as the object of derision is first and foremost, unethical (look up meaning of that word in dictionary then quiz your staff), and in terms of Marketing 101, is in the Top 10 of Things Not to Do unless you want to anger your customers. It makes you nothing more than a … well, fill in your favorite epitaph.
“The really sad thing for all of you is that Ukrainian dancing is recognized worldwide as one of the most expressive and visually dynamic forms of ethno-national dancing. Of course the deep and profound ignorance and arrogance that is dominant in your advertising department precludes anyone at Verizon from understanding that.
“Pull the ugly, nasty ad, now. Destroy it. Under that link, run an apology instead for deeply offending millions of Ukrainians in the U.S. and Canada and an apology for taking our money and still being so damn dumb…”
The Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.A. also issued a public statement via its Facebook page:
“We have let Verizon know our concern about its commercial labeled ‘I’ll watch anything except this’ that ridicules the Ukrainian national dance ‘Hopak’ in a manner that many will find derogatory. While this most likely hasn’t been Verizon’s intention, such commercial can be seen as disrespectful of the Ukrainian culture and offensive to millions of Ukrainians, including those who live in the United States. We have seen many comments from the Ukrainian community to that effect. The issue is particularly sensitive at the time when Russian aggression threatens Ukraine’s sovereignty and statehood. While having no intention to interfere with Verizon’s advertising policy, it is our sincere hope that the company will take this fact into consideration.”
Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, wrote: “…Would you dare substitute rap music or Klezmer musicians for Ukrainian dancing – I doubt it very much. And at a time when Ukraine is being dismembered by the Russians, this kind of dumb and tasteless ad is even more inappropriate. Have it removed, immediately, otherwise I am sure you will start hearing folks saying ‘I’ll subscribe to anything by Verizon.’”
Roma Hadzewycz, editor-in-chief of The Ukrainian Weekly, wrote to Verizon: “…Verizon must apologize – publicly – to the Ukrainian community. …Our newspapers, which serve the Ukrainian community of North America, will gladly publish your official statement on this matter…
”Diedre Hart, public relations director for Verizon, wrote in an e-mail message to The Ukrainian Weekly: “Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. The commercial is about our latest effort to give customers a simple way to find the types of channels they want to watch, and pay for exactly that. We sincerely apologize if the commercial offended you. That was not the intent. To that end, that reference is no longer in the commercials. We appreciate the opportunity to respond.” She declined to offer any further comment.
Thus far, Verizon has failed to respond to The Ukrainian Weekly after Matthew Dubas had left messages for executives responsible for media relations.
For those who want to express themselves, Verizon has a Facebook page and Twitter. As well, readers can submit an inquiry or concern to Verizon’s Office of Ethics and Business Conduct, by calling the VZ Compliance Guideline at 844-VZGUIDE (844-894-8433) for U.S. and (+) 800-0-624-0007 for international callers.