Dubai fitness firm The Circuit Factory apologises over Auschwitz joke

Fitness company ran Facebook poster campaign that joked about Nazi concentration camp.

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DUBAI // The founder of a fitness gym was forced to apologise yesterday after he posted a series of offensive promotional images on the internet, including a photo of a notorious Nazi concentration camp with the slogan: “Kiss your calories goodbye.”

Phil Parkinson, 32, who runs the Circuit Factory’s Facebook group, uploaded the 10 images yesterday morning. Within hours he had removed four of them as a storm of protest erupted on Facebook and Twitter, where criticism of the images ranged from “tasteless” to “despicable”.

“Phil, this is out of control!” posted a member of the online group.

Mr Parkinson, who is British, had posted the images to Facebook under the title “New Poster Campaign – aka Politically Correct”.

One of the first ones he removed amid the internet uproar was the black-and-white photo of the rail tracks leading to Auschwitz II–Birkenau, the network of concentration and extermination camps where Hitler’s Nazis murdered an estimated 1.3 million people between 1942 and 1944.

Mr Parkinson said he was sorry for using the image. “I apologise if I have offended anyone with the campaign. That was certainly not my intention when we created it,” he said.

“You put strong ideas across, and if they’ve been poorly received then I apologise.”

Mr Parkinson said he used an image of Auschwitz to advertise weight-loss and exercise classes because “it’s like a calorie concentration camp”.

“The idea of the campaign isn’t to upset anybody. The way branding works is … you want people talking about your business. We want them talking about us, but we don’t want people to take offence at it.”

On his Twitter account, he posted many apologies and tweeted: “Apologies for the insane poster campaign that was put up this morning. The creative guy has been told where to go.”

By yesterday afternoon, another three images had been removed. One was a poster depicting a toilet full of faeces, accompanied by the word “bootcamps”. The second showed men doing press-ups, with the caption: “Saving Dubai from s**t like this”. The third was a poster of four scantily dressed women that proclaimed: “Are you a fat s**g? Just be a s**g.”

The Circuit Factory, in Al Quoz, was established two years ago. It runs group exercise classes and employs five trainers. One said he was surprised that the images had been used.

“I can see how these would offend people,” he said.

Suhail Hameed, the manager at the front desk, said the Facebook group was independent of the gym itself. “We don’t have any offensive ads or pamphlets in the actual gym,” he said. “We received calls from people demanding to know why we are using offensive ads. I kept telling them, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Working out at the gym yesterday, Mohammed Dabban, 17, who had seen the ads on Facebook, said there had been “an over reaction”.

“I see where they were going with them, trying to promote the gym with extreme images and slogans,” said Mr Dabban, from Jordan.

Ali, 33, an Emirati, said: “People are free to put up what they want in the virtual world. If you’re offended by something, leave the group or quit the gym.”

Ahmed, a Palestinian, said, “If the Holocaust one wasn’t there, no one would have paid attention to the other images. Sexist images are everywhere.

“I personally don’t like any human tragedies to be used for commercial gains.”