During World War II, American and European governments slapped the face of Adolf Hitler on posters to stir up patriotic feeling. Seventy years later, cynical marketers are using the Nazi leader's likeness to stir up a craving for everything from pizza to herbal tea. Just last week, New Form, an Italian clothing line got in trouble for featuring the infamous dictator in a pink Nazi uniform on a series of 18-foot-high posters in Palermo, Sicily. ("Change style," read the slogan. "Don't follow your leader.")
Arguably, Hitler's re-emergence as a reliably controversial pop-culture provocateur has developed in step with the growth of the most pervasive internet meme in history, a comically adaptable scene from the German movie Downfall (whose producers have reportedly convinced YouTube to remove the parodies). Here, a look at some of the products Hitler has unwittingly shilled for since the Downfall clip was first re-edited in 2006:
New Zealand pizza
For a billboard campaign, Hell Pizza, a New Zealand restaurant chain, paired an image of Hitler making the Nazi "sig heil" salute with a slice of pizza in his hand with the quote (attributed to Hitler): "It is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell." After Jewish residents protested, the company replaced Hitler with another prominent German citizen: Pope Benedict XVI.
For one of the first German ads to use an image of the Nazi dictator — a taboo in post-war Germany — Bonn-based hatmaker Thomas Weber okayed a visual juxtaposition comparing the dictator and his mustache-twin, Charlie Chaplin, the latter distinguished by a bowler. ("It's the hat," said the slogan.) "This is not really about Hitler," said Weber. "This is more about Charlie Chaplin and the hat."
A Belgian TV travel show
A Belgium TV station courted (and promptly earned) controversy with a print ad depicting the host of a travel show as Hitler wearing nothing but a Swastika armband. "Discover the real Europe. Not the cliches," said the caption. National broadcaster VTR, which had recently pushed the same buttons by featuring Hitler's favorite dish in a cooking show, was forced to pull the ad after a number of complaints.
To promote the use of prophylactics from Doc Morris Pharmacies, a German advertising team commissioned an illustration of a sperm with the dictator's much-parodied mustache and hairdo. The message, according to Adweek: "Use a condom and be sure you're not bringing the next Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler or Mao Zedong into the world."
Turkish "anti-stress tea"
Rasayana, an "anti-stress tea," proposed that even Germany's most notorious leader could have been a meek, flower-loving peacenik had he enjoyed their brew. In a typical ad, the slogan "Make peace with the world" runs with an image of the Fuhrer savoring a rose's scent.
Having already used Hitler to encourage condom use, German advertising creatives used him to reinforce what might happen if you don't use one. In a controversial TV spot, a couple are shown having sex; when the man is revealed as the Nazi leader, a tagline announces: "AIDS is a mass murderer." HIV charities condemned the ad as offensive to AIDS sufferers.
South African books, DVDs and CDs
A South African entertainment store, CNA, morphed the faces of Adolf Hitler and James Dean into "a single evil, rebellious pitchman" to promote the not-exactly-revolutionary notion that CNA customers could pick a book on Hitler while buying one of James Dean's movies. Bill Gates and Elvis Presley, among other famous pairs, were similarly combined.
The animals rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' continued its long history of contriving controversy earlier this year by comparing British dog breeders to Nazis. In the ad, a dog sporting a Hitler mustache is accompanied by the slogan: "Master race? Wrong for people. Wrong for dogs. Boycott breeders. Adopt." British ad regulators ignored complaints from wounded dog breeders, ruling that the poster was unlikely to cause "serious or widespread offense."