KOTA KINABALU, April 19 — Hard Rock Café has landed itself in some trouble with local animal lovers and activists less than a month after it opened here, as Sabahans took offence to the restaurant’s promotional material featuring an orangutan.
Photos of the restaurant’s promotional advertisements went viral on social media site Facebook, with environmentalists and enraged locals aghast over buntings and banners bearing the image of an orangutan baring its fangs while holding an electric guitar on a stage.
Angry Facebook users went so far as to threaten to boycott the restaurant if it did not immediately take down the offending advertising material depicting the state’s beloved mascot.
Sabah Wildlife Department Dr Sen Nathan said that the photo was depicting the orangutan in a very unnatural pose and is a form of animal exploitation.
“It does not matter if it was photoshopped or a real photo… what is the underlying message that we in Sabah want to portray?” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
“The photo gives a completely negative impression to locals and tourists of how we view and treat our dearest wildlife, especially our flagship species — the majestic orangutan.
“I’ve already asked the restaurant’s management to remove it. We had advised them against using that image, but they went ahead with the advert. This does not look good for the restaurant’s or Sabah’s image,” he added.
Conservation biologist Dr Benoit Goosens said that the advertisement was distasteful and a bad marketing decision on the restaurant management’s part.
“We should not be encouraging the use of wildlife in this kind of promotion even if it is photoshopped. It is highly inappropriate in a world where wildlife is commercially exploited.
“It does not give a good image of the company, and they should take it down immediately and stop the publicity campaign,” said Goosens, who is also the director of Sabah-based wildlife research and training facility Danau Girang Field Centre.
In response to the advertisements, Facebook users launched an online protest, flooding the restaurant’s Facebook page with posts objecting to the use of the orangutan in their promotion material.
“Really BAD taste, Hard Rock Café KK. Take these down now! Stop exploiting Orang Utans. This is so NOT clever,” said Jaswinder Kaur Kler, a communications manager with an environmental non-governmental organisation.
Simon Amos said, “Typical multinational insensitivity. All they care about is money, some overpaid idiot thought it would make good marketing and clearly has no idea how dear we hold our wildlife.
“I thought HRC would be a good brand for Sabah but when I saw the advertisements mocking our wildlife I realised it is just another insensitive greed-machine.”
Calls to the management of Hard Rock Café went unanswered.