Korean Air offends Kenyans in ad campaign that went viral

The airline apologized for referring to Kenyans’ ‘primitive energy,’ a term that caught fire on Twitter.


Most companies would be thrilled to see their ad copy go viral—unless the ad offended the people of an entire nation. That’s the case with Korean Air, which is apologizing for referring to Kenyans’ “primitive energy.”

It started last week with an online ad touting Korean Air’s service from Incheon to Nairobi, Kenya. Buried in the last line of the ad’s copy was this sentence:

“Fly to Nairobi with Korean Air and enjoy the grand African savanna, the safari tour, and the indigenous people full of primitive energy.”

The Twitter user Wouter van Cleef spotted the ad and shared it with his 400 or so followers. In a Storify post, Van Cleef shared what happened next:

“It took an hour or so [after the original tweet], but then the Voice of America’s Seoul bureau chief Steve Herman (@W7VOA) hit the RT button. Within minutes of his RT, at least 10 others decided to retweet.

“By the time Monday morning had started in East Africa, Kenyans woke up as the RTs increased. All hell broke loose.”

Some Kenyans on Twitter found the line “primitive energy” amusing. Others didn’t.

Due to the number of tweets referring to “primitive energy,” Van Cleef suggested that the term became a trending topic on Monday in Kenya (although that is unconfirmed).

First, Korean Air apologized to van Cleef directly. Later, it issued a broader apology:

Ultimately, the airline removed the ad from its website.

Read van Cleef’s entire account of the incident at Storify.

(h/t @bizbayron)

(Image via)

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