Yes, you read that right: A novelty t-shirt shop in the Indian province of Ahmedabad dared to give itself the most infamous name in the world and lived to tell the tale—for a couple of weeks, at least. (Design nerds should note the assertive serif font and the must-be-ironic swastika over the “i”.)
You might ask yourself some variety of “what the hell were they thinking” when considering this most ridiculous of PR moves, and the big question is: was it an intentional provocation? Did the shop’s owners knowingly court controversy in the interest of selling more hip tees bearing the likenesses of Superman and Ghandi (love that pairing, BTW)?
The store’s owner initially pled ignorance regarding the name’s historical significance, and his “aw shucks” innocence was more believable in India than in almost any other country: The swastika was originally a Hindi symbol, and the practice of naming things “Hitler” is apparently “not uncommon” on the Indian subcontinent (though this is news to us). At any rate, the owner claimed that he bestowed the title in honor of his partner’s father, who earned the nickname “Hitler” after portraying the world’s most murderous dictator in a college play. End of story? Uh, no.
The owner now says that he learned of the name’s significance soon after making the choice but stuck with it because it was “catchy and different.” We’d love to give him the benefit of the doubt, but we feel like he simply underestimated the strength of the subsequent outcry, because he initially ignored complaints from Jewish locals while noting that the majority of his customers–who are Hindu–didn’t seem to care about the controversy.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the weight of public opinion has come to bear on “Hitler” the store–sometimes a well-executed stunt attracts a little too much attention. While Ahmedabad has only about 500 Jewish residents, they appear to have wielded their influence well in bringing this case of dubious PR practices to the attention of the world at large; yesterday Israel’s Mumbai counsel demanded that the store change its name and, despite earlier resistance, the shop owners told reporters that they would comply.
Now we assume they’ll have to lose the nifty swastika too. It’s a real shame.
Will this weird brouhaha ultimately win big business for the ambitious shopkeeps? We doubt it, because we can’t see all the media attention carrying over unless they add “formerly known as Hitler” to their new name–and we’d like to think they’ve learned to avoid that particular moniker.