Turkey Goes Mad: Fabricating Coup From Biscuits 

Ulker, the best known Turkish brand for chocolate and biscuits, has been targeted on the social media after releasing a commercial for Fools’ Day. The video was a final one from a series of videos that focused on ‘happiness’, ‘being younger sibling and getting fooled’. The commercial was accused of promoting terror and a coup.

For outsiders, reading too much into a chocolate bar commercial may sound irrational and foolish. But in Turkey it is an ordinary incident that illustrates the mindset of supporters of Turkey’s popular leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The main slogans in the Ulker commercial were “happiness can be planned, happiness can be fooled, it’s hard to be the younger sibling, now it’s time for a reckoning.” The ad was the continuation of a promotion concept that focused on being fooled as a younger sibling. In the previous month, Ulker asked its customers through social media to share their memories of being fooled as a younger sibling, if there were any. The cartoon commercial which was released on April 1st midnight was based on “reckoning the fooled memories.” A creepy voice was singing and laughing, “I’ve got a surprise for you. Misery will find you!”

This was enough to spark the madness. The accusations were focused on sentences like “Misery will find you, I’ve got a surprise for you, April 1st is coming and reckoning is coming.” These slogans were blamed for having hidden messages of a new coup attempt, a terror act and even an assassination Mr. Erdogan. 

Shortly after the commercial, pro-Erdogan group gathered outside the president’s compound in Istanbul to guard their leader. The company had been smeared on the social media in ways that were many times outrageous and funny. Most of these paranoid protests, such as hanging an Ulker-made chocolate bar, were mocked. 

Some of Mr. Erdogan’s fans connected initials of Ulker’s different brands to prove that the group was seeking a coup. A biscuit brand of Ulker, Halley, which is named after a comet, was linked to the shutdown of Samanyolu TV networks (Milky Way). Some of Central Bank officials were purged following the coup over Haley’s Comet.

Some pointed to subliminal messages when listened in reverse, others went in length to inform the public about messages in the ad. The terms used in the video such as ‘abi’ (which is the Turkish appeal for elder male sibling) and ‘abla’  (for elder female sibling) were interpreted to make reference to the Gulen Movement. 

Even the Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed that it was an unfortunate event that the video made reference to ‘abi’s and ‘abla’s, adding that the words ‘abla’ and ‘abi’  could be an allusion to Gulenists. 

Foolish events in Fools’ Day were in full swing with people sharing their videos on the social media where they hanged their coffee packages, burned chocolate bars or stabbed an Ulker butter box, with patriotic soundbite in the background. Turkish prosecutors also launched an investigation into the commercial.

The public pressure on the company was so tremendous that the Ulker said it pulled off the commercial and started an investigation into it. Ulker, which owns chocolate giant Godiva, shipped 1/5 of its assets to the U.K. earlier this year. Some economists speculated that Ulker is slowly leaving the country in a sign of sagging economy, a claim rejected by Ulker. 

Ulker had struggled for days to contain the damage to its brand and tried to stay on the government’s good side out of fear that it could be the next company to be seized. Turkish government has confiscated nearly 1,000 companies in the past year, including giants such as furniture manufacturer Boydak and gold-mining Ipek as well as baklava-maker Gulluoglu.

Ulker said it had always been a supporter of the country and its people. Despite’s Ulker’s attempt to attenuate the anger, there were few signs that the furious crowd would calm down.

Seizing the moment, Torku, which is fairly a new brand in Turkish biscuit/chocolate market and whose owner is close to the government, took advantage of the situation. Torku released photos declaring that “they care for Turkish democracy as a 100 percent Turkish brand.” “Buy Torku instead of Ulker,” was one of the slogans. 

Ulker is by far the most popular Turkish brand for chocolate and biscuits. The company also made efforts to promote innovation. A few years ago, Ulker donated $24 million to Harvard University for a research. 

Being a leading, innovative and a global brand is not a guarantee of your survival in today’s Turkey. Every company faces seizure by the authorities if they are not full-fledged supporters of the government.

The hurricane surrounding Ulker is a testimony to what extent the madness in Turkey could go. At the end of the day, this is a country that jailed a media executive for sending an encrypted message through a soap opera, imprisoned thousands of people for having one dollar bills — claiming that serial numbers are secret codes sent from the U.S. — or presenting a 9-month old newspaper commercial as an evidence for last summer’s coup.

How could we expect that this country will bring real perpetrators of last summer’s coup attempt to justice? Can we expect these authorities to serve justice when they fabricate a coup from a biscuit commercial? 

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