Austria burqa ban: PR agency told man to dress as shark to violate new law

A man dressed as a shark has been fined under new anti-burqa laws in Austria. A PR agency has admitted the incident was a stunt designed to make a "socially relevant" point.

Austrian PR agency Warda Network has admitted it told one of its employees to dress as a shark to challenge the country's new anti-burqa laws.

Police had confronted a man on Friday after he was seen promoting a new outlet of the McShark electronics store in Vienna in a costume that covered his face. When he refused to remove his shark head, he was given a fine of €150 ($176).

Warda CEO Eugen Prosquill told Austrian networking website Leadersnet on Tuesday that the incident's coverage on social media and in international news outlets made it a strikingly successful PR stunt.

"We were able to create a massive echo with a relatively low budget," he said.

Europe | 21.05.2010

Who called?

Warda revealed that Austrian police had fined its employee in a post on its Facebook page on Friday. But it did not say at the time whether it had contacted the police to raise suspicions about the shark mascot.

Regional daily Österreich reported the officers acted after a call from an unidentified member of the public. Police had suspected the report came from someone who wished to prove a point about the new laws.

But Prosquill refused to deny whether a Warda employee had called the police on Tuesday to instigate the coverage when asked about the call by Leadersnet.

For the love of sharks

Sharks, sharks everywhere

Blame it on Jaws or blame it on the fact that sharks do have rather a lot of sharp teeth, fact is, many humans have a fear of sharks as deep as the waters in which they swim. Any expert will tell you, we kill by far more of these great fish a year than they do us. So should we really be scared?

For the love of sharks

The reef shark

There are five species of reef shark, of which this is one. Feasting on crustaceans and fish alike, they are the top predator in the fragile ecosystem from which they take their name. They are no strangers to divers either, and have been known to attack when they feel threatened.

For the love of sharks

All shapes and sizes

There are more than 250 recorded species of shark in the waters around our planet. They range in size and ferocity. The sand tiger shark weighs up to 159 kilos and can reach a length of 3.2 meters. They are big eaters, have a mouth full of frightening looking teeth, but are generally regarded as being docile and unlikely to attack humans unless provoked to do so.

For the love of sharks

Mass slaughter

Though it is impossible to know exactly how many sharks are killed annually for their fins, some estimates put the number around 100 million. Finning, as the practice is known, entails the removal of the fin while the shark is alive. The animals are then cast back into the sea where if not dead already, they succumb to a painful end. The fins are used to make soup, which costs up to $100 a bowl.

For the love of sharks

Growing old gracefully

Recent research revealed that Greenland sharks can live to the extraordinarily ripe old age of 400. These predators have a healthy appetite, but have never been known to go for humans. They like cold waters, through which they move slowly. And that is not the only thing they do at a leisurly pace - they don't even reach sexual maturity until they are around 150.

For the love of sharks

Just because it's big, doesn't mean...

...it will hurt you. At 18 meters, whale sharks are the longest species in the family, and indeed the biggest fish in the sea. At that rate, dinner should be theirs for the picking, but their penchant is for plankton. Good news for all the other creatures in the sea. But whale sharks are at risk. Not only are they fished for their fins, oil and meat, but are often hit by eco-tourism boats.

For the love of sharks

Lemon sharks

Said to be the best researched sharks, the lemon species is considered non-agressive. To date there have been no recorded incidents of a human fatality as a result of a lemon shark attack. They are social creatures that move in groups, where they rarely display aggressive behavior to each other.

Warda's creative director, Jakob Kattner, also implied that the company was behind the stunt, telling Leadersnet that Warda "wanted to bring attention to the absurdity of the current burqa-ban with the PR act and make a socially-relevant point."

On Wednesday, the company wrote on their official Facebook page that the story had generated 50 million clicks online at a cost of €150.

"We are not so good at math, but we think a cost-per-thousand click of 0.003 (euros) is alright," it said.

Related Subjects

The latest European ban on burqas

Read more: Austrian full-face veil ban comes into effect

Austria's new laws aimed at prohibiting people from covering their faces in public came into effect at the start of October. The rule came as part of legislation approved in May that also establishes mandatory integration courses and prompts asylum-seekers to do unpaid public work.

The laws were written in such a way to be religiously neutral, but that has led to widespread confusion in the German-speaking nation. Vienna daily Der Standard reported that in one case a cyclist was stopped by police for covering her face with a scarf.

Read more: The prospect of a burqa ban spreads across Europe

France was the first European country to outlaw face veils in 2011. Belgium, Bulgaria and Switzerland followed suit, while the Netherlands has prohibited the use of veils in public offices. Germany imposed a limited ban on face coverings in April.  It applies to only public officials and soldiers on duty.