International fury has erupted after the airing of a TV commercial using the Ku Klux Klan to promote a new laundry detergent.
Broadcast stations and official media watchdogs had their lines jammed when the 45-second clip promoting ‘Snowblind' washing powder went out across the European Union.
Tagged with the strapline ‘So white, so right', the advert, transmitted in 12 languages, has caused offence across the Continent, forcing the Swiss manufacturer, Delmer Pharmaceuticals, to withdraw it immediately and issue an international apology on prime time TV.
The ad, part of a $40m marketing campaign, featured a group of Klan members marching through a small town at night behind a burning cross. All freeze when they're caught in a white glare. The camera then focuses on another Klansman emerging from the dark, with his robes radiating. The camera then zooms in to reveal him carrying a box of ‘Snowblind' and a voice over states ‘So white, so right'.
Within minutes of being aired, complaints started to pour in, some from the other side of the Atlantic where viewers had picked the advert up by satellite and claimed it mocked a cherished tradition.
Scheduled to run six times after the 9pm viewing watershed, TV stations pulled the plug after the first showing.
The uproar even prompted condemnation from heads of state, forcing Delmer Pharmaceuticals to air a hastily filmed apology.
In it, the obviously uncomfortable chief executive Pierre Routledge (52) stated: "It was our mistaken assumption that viewers would see the humour in our commercial. We appreciate that, perhaps, it could also be seen as insensitive and we unequivocally apologise to all those we have offended."
A statement issued on behalf of the White Knights Imperial Wizards condemned the advert.
"This is an affront and attempts to mock the American pride evident in every Klansman," said a spokesman.
"We do not endorse any European products and would not want to be associated with any European detergents.
"This advert is an insult and a pathetic attempt to make light of serious issues and ridicule our nationalistic commitment."
This is not Delmer Pharmaceuticals' first brush with controversy. In 1998 the company was censured by the European Advertising Standards Agency after targeting a fabric conditioner advertising campaign at men. It claimed that, if used on underwear, it could promote penis enhancement.