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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Inspired by its mission, VisitDenmark uploaded a video on YouTube 89 on September 10, 2009, without disclosing that it is behind the video. Rather, the video was published by 'Karen26', a single Danish mother, who is using YouTube to look for the father of her baby. In the video, Karen is seen holding her baby boy August. She introduces herself and talks about a one-night stand with a foreign tourist, who she claims is the father of August. She says that she cannot remember the name or home country of this man, but she wants to let him know that Augusts exists. At the end of her video, Karen publishes her e-mail address (danishkaren26@gmail.com) and the address of her website (http://karen26.mono.net/).

In the first 24 hours, 282,000 people see the video clip and 2,000 people comment on it (DR 2009a). On September 11 and 12, Danish media report the story of Karen's search for her son's father in their online and print editions (DR 2009a; TV2 2009a; Jyllands-Posten 2009b;

Ekstrabladet 2009a). The story is also covered in Sweden (Aftonbladet 2009a) and the UK (Sunday Star 2009). Danmark Radio, the Danish national broadcasting station, points out that some of the people commenting on the video on YouTube think that the video might be fake (DR 2009a).

On September 12, Danish bloggers also begin to question whether Karen is real. They bring up the idea that a condom manufacturer, the Danish National Health Agency, or the Danish National Tourism Board could be behind the video (Bæk 2009; Colding-Jørgensen 2009). Also on 12 September, communication consultant Morten Saxnæs (2009a) reveals via Twitter that VisitDenmark, the National Tourism Board, is behind the video. His post reads: "Many people think that this is a condom commercial, but it is for VisitDenmark. Sign up for their newsletter" (Saxnæs 2009b). On the evening of September 12, Jyllands-Posten picks up the story again, reporting that there are many voices in Denmark believing that Karen's search for the father of her son is fake, primarily because the campaign is done too well to have been produced by a young single mother. On September 13, Jyllands-Posten reports that 'Karen' is a fictitious character played by an actress. This information has been leaked to the press by people who have recognized the actress. At this point, the video has already been seen by 700,000 people (Jyllands-Posten 2009c).

On the evening of September 13, the television news channel TV2 discloses that VisitDenmark is behind the YouTube video. In an interview, the executive director of VisitDenmark, Dorte Kiilerich, explains the rationale behind the campaign as follows: "The story shows that Karen is a Danish woman, who lives with dignity and independence in a free society that gives her the space to choose how she wants to live her life. We market Denmark as a free country, and we are happy that so many people around the world have chosen to see this" (TV2 2009b). On September 14, Extra Bladet publishes an interview with Dorte Kiilerich, where she is

asked whether she thinks that it is acceptable to lie to people all over the world. Dorte responds:

89 The video has been removed from YouTube, but is available from:


842 "That depends on which media you use. This is why we have chosen to use YouTube. Here, you are in a social universe, where some stories are true and some stories are false" (Ekstrabladet 2009b). In response to the negative reception of the story in Danish media, VisitDenmark issues a press release on September 14, admitting that the story about Karen's search for the father is fabricated. They say that they are sorry that the video has offended many people, which was not their intention, as the goal had been to create positive awareness and discussions about Denmark.

The chairman of VisitDenmark, Georg Sørensen, is also quoted in VisitDenmark's press release, stating that he believes the campaign was a mistake (VisitDenmark 2009a). In addition to removing the video from YouTube, VisitDenmark also deletes the website that was set up for 'Karen26' (VisitDenmark 2009a). By the time the video is taken off YouTube, over one million people have seen it (Berlingske Tidende 2009).

Peter Helstrup, strategic director at advertising agency Grey's in Copenhagen, who produced the video, is asked by the press to comment on the campaign. He says: "This is the most successful viral advert ever. We have got through the media noise and it cost the same as a 30-second spot shown a couple of times on TV2 [Danish national television]" (Politiken 2009).

In response to the video, the Danish Minister for Economic and Business Affairs, Lene Espersen, who is also responsible for VisitDenmark, states that the representation of Denmark in the video is inappropriate and not well though-out and that she is glad the video has been removed (Jyllands-Posten 2009a). In the days and weeks after the events, the story is covered by news media all around the world, including for example the US (USA Today 2009), Australia (NineMSN 2009), Great Britain (BBC 2009), Germany (Der Stern 2009), Sweden (Aftonbladet 2009a), Italy (Corriere della Sera 2009), Austria (ORF 2009), and Romania (EVZ 2009). In the aftermath of the story, numerous mock and spoof videos appear on YouTube. They show, for example, men claiming to be August's father 90, men seeking the mothers of their child 91, or August's side of the story 92.

On September 25, VisitDenmark announces that executive director Dorte Kiilerich has decided to resign from her position, but does not state that this has anything to do with the campaign (VisitDenmark 2009b).

Results from the Content Analysis The content analysis recorded content categories, sources, and evaluation in the 107 news articles. Table 1 shows the percentage of articles in which the nine different content categories occurred. Next to all articles mention the video, VisitDenmark, and the campaign. Most of the articles also mention people's reaction to the campaign. To lesser extent, the country image, sex, women, and tourism are brought up. The Danish concept of "hygge" 93, which Karen talks about in the video, is taken up only by a fraction of the news articles. A chi square test of significant 90 Danish mother seeking (The father's story), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Amsk2ixS_cc 91 Brooklyn Father Seeking, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXdbNWJaif4 92 August's story, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWR-o8bTFrI 93 Hygge" is an important part of Danish culture and denotes "a complete absence of anything

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differences revealed highly significant differences for category "Sex" (p0.001) and significant differences for category "Country image" (p0.01), both of which are used significantly more often in the English news articles.

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The 20 evaluation categories were found in 102 (90.5%) of the articles. Thus, the overwhelming majority of the articles in the sample contain either positive or negative evaluative statements, and only 5 articles were completely neutral in tone. Overall, 485 instances of evaluation were identified as part of the coding. The English articles contained 60 evaluative statements, of which 4.3% were positive and 95.7% were negative. In the Danish news coverage, 14.9% of the evaluative statements were positive, while 85.1% were negative. A chi square test of independence revealed significant differences (p0.05) between Danish and English news coverage, with the English news coverage being slightly more negative than the Danish ones.

Table 2 shows the percentage of articles in which the different evaluation categories were found. The most frequent categories in the English news coverage were "Danish women promiscuous", "Offensive", and "Lying". In the Danish coverage, meanwhile, the most frequent categories were "Lying", "Offensive", and "Unsuccessful". A chi square test of independence revealed significant differences for the categories "Denmark made a fool of itself" (p0.05), "Lying" (p0.05), and "Danish women promiscuous" (p0.001). This means that Danish articles mention more frequently that VisitDenmark has lied to its audience, while English articles report significantly more often that Denmark made a fool of itself and that the campaign presents Danish women as promiscuous. It is also interesting to note that the category "Dark-skinned baby" occurs in a third of the English ones, but not in a single Danish one. The baby in the video is in fact not dark-skinned at all, but an error in one foreign news source must have resulted in a number of articles covering this aspect. This also shows that the English journalists did not watch the video, as they otherwise would have noticed that the baby is Caucasian. The category "Incompetence of VisitDenmark" occurs in a quarter of the Danish ones, but not in the English ones. This stands to reason somehow, given that VisitDenmark is partly financed through Danish taxes, which is an aspect that is not relevant abroad.


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Table 3 cross-tabulates evaluative statements by source and polarity. The results indicate that the overwhelming majority of negative statements are provided by the journalists writing the articles, followed by quotations from experts and quotations from VisitDenmark. Positive statements, which are used substantially less frequently, are provided mostly by VisitDenmark when outlining their viewpoint of what the video presents, and by the journalist writing the article. These results also show that quotations from experts were mainly used to provide a negative evaluation of the campaign.


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Table 4: Breakdown of Evaluative Statements by Source and Polarity The analysis above has shown that the two most important sources of evaluative content are the journalist writing the article and quotations from VisitDenmark. These two sources of evaluations were therefore subjected to a more detailed analysis of the evaluative categories they provide. Table 4 indicates how the positive and negative evaluations provided by journalists and VisitDenmark are distributed over the various evaluation categories. Categories for which the frequencies for both sources is below 3% were aggregated as "other".

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As Table 4 shows, the journalists' evaluations of the campaign are mainly that VisitDenmark lied to its audience, that the campaign is offensive, and that Danish women are presented as promiscuous. To a lesser extent, journalists claim that the campaign was unsuccessful, that Denmark is presented as a sex paradise, and that the campaign presents the wrong picture of Denmark. The results further illustrate that VisitDenmark is mostly quoted, using the evaluation categories "Offensive", "Denmark is liberal", and "Successful". These evaluations occur when VisitDenmark's executive director acknowledges that the campaign has offended many people, but still perceives the campaign to be successful, as it presents Denmark as a liberal country. In some instances, the chairman of VisitDenmark admits that the campaign was not successful. In a few cases, VisitDenmark is quoted to talk about an expected increase in tourism. Overall, journalists provide very few positive evaluations relative to their number of negative evaluations, while evaluations made by VisitDenmark are split more or less equally between positive and negative.

Discussion This paper has presented the case of VisitDenmark, the Danish National Tourism Board, who tried to promote the country by publishing a video on YouTube, in which a single mother was looking for the father of her son. When it came to light that VisitDenmark was behind the video, news coverage in Danish newspapers and abroad followed. While Danish news coverage was quite substantial, the amount of English-language news coverage abroad was moderate.

Departing from agenda setting theory (McCombs & Shaw 1972) and the stakeholder salience model (Mitchell et al. 1997), we chose to focus our analysis on the media, as they play an important role as drivers of public opinion and have the power to determine whether a story results in a crisis situation for an organization or not.

The content analysis of the newspaper articles has shown that almost all articles that covered the affair contained positive or negative evaluations of the story. The Danish media emphasized that VisitDenmark has offended and lied to the Danish population by pretending that Karen's story was real. Foreign media found that the campaign suggests that Danish women are promiscuous. The finding that evaluative content was most commonly included by the journalist themselves, illustrates the prevalence of framing in the news coverage.

Moreover, both the national and international media considered two issues important: the image of Denmark and the Danes and people’s reaction to the campaign. VisitDenmark aimed at creating a specific symbolism 94 by associating the idea of a liberal country with that of ‘liberal sex’. As the executive director of VisitDenmark stated, the idea behind this campaign was to create an image of Denmark as a free country where "a grown-up woman … accepts the consequences of her actions” (TV2 2009b). However, our findings show a different symbolism.

The national and international media interpreted the campaign in a way that Denmark is a country with promiscuous women willing to have one-night stands with foreigners. The

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campaign also reinforced this symbolism by choosing a blond and beautiful actress to play the role of Karen, supporting the stereotype of Nordic women. The idea of promiscuity associated with the main character of VisitDenmark’s video was transferred to the image of the country by most of the journalists, which becomes evident in the prevalence of negative tones in both international and national news articles.

The second issue, people’s reaction, represents the concerns of Danish population. The mass media chose to cover this specific issue, because of the potential controversy behind the campaign. Journalists, in fact, often privilege contents that have conflict frames that accentuate controversies among issues or event actors (Reber & Berger 2005; Hertog & McLeod 2001).

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