I am El Hema
26 August 2007 - Playing with other people’s
logos: some get away with it, others do not. Last Friday, Mediamatic
presented its new Arabic typefonts at an exhibition parodying both
the Hema department stores and the I Amsterdam city branding campaign.
At the Post CS building, Mediamatic opened an Arabic version of
the popular Hema department store, selling Arabic chocolate letters,
school note books suitable for writing from right to left, halal
sausages, and other products. The fonts used have been designed
by teams of Dutch and Arabic designers.
On 17 July, the Hema’s legal department sent Mediamatic a
letter ordering it to deliver all t-shirts, bags, display materials
and other products saying ‘Hema’ or ‘El Hema’
(‘in Dutch or Arabic writing’) to the Hema offices for
destruction. However, within days the department store chain changed
its mind and announced it supported the Mediamatic initiative.
The incident yielded huge media attention, leading to inevitable
speculation about the whole conflict being a publicity stunt. However,
it seems unlikely that Hema would have gone along with such a scheme.
Hema’s initial hostile response was somewhat surprising,
given its earlier rather detached response to an SKK campaign urging
the department store to have its suppliers improve labour conditions.
The SKK uses t-shirts and other materials featuring the Hema logo.
However, Hema’s response was limited to an explanation of
its corporate social responsibility policies.
At the opening of the Mediamatic exhibition, alderwoman Carolien
Gehrels proudly wore an Ana-msterdam t-shirt - a play on the I Amsterdam
city branding campaign (‘ana’ means ‘I’
or ‘I am’ in Arabic).
Of course, Mediamatic was not the first to adapt the slogan to
its own purposes. Drug users’ organisation MDHG had I Amsterdam
Too t-shirts printed to protest against zero tolerance policies,
and when some gay pride activities were cancelled because they would
coincide with a football tournament, protestors wore I Am Ashamed
However, when civil servants used an I Ambtenaar (‘ambtenaar’
means ‘civil servant’) logo at their website, they received
a letter from the city ordering them to stop using the logo, unless
they changed the colours and the typeface, removed the connection
between the A and the M and used a sanserif letter I.
Apparently, the municipality would rather have people associate
its logo with gay pride or multicultural design than with civil
servants’ office humour. Which is understandable.
Illustration above: Gehrels posing in Ana-msterdam t-shirt
at the opening of the Mediamatic exhibition. Below: El Hema t-shirts,
SKK t-shirts, I Am Ashamed t-shirt, banned I Ambtenaar logo, redesigned
I Ambtenaar logo
Hema website, SKK
Hema campaign, I
Amsterdam Too campaign (in Dutch), I
Ambtenaar website (in Dutch), critical discussion of I
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