GEICO Skytypers to Armenian Assembly of America: ‘We clearly did not understand what we were promoting’
GEICO Skytypers Apologizes for Armenian Genocide Denial Message
On April 25, GEICO Skytypers issued “An Apology” for the Armenian Genocide denial skywriting that occurred over New York City last week.
Armenian Assembly of America Florida Chair and South Florida Armenian Genocide Commemoration, Inc. Chair Arsine Kaloustian designed a campaign to contact the GEICO Skytypers and educate them on their own message. The image featured the GEICO Gecko with the following text: “GEICO Skytypers, sponsored by GEICO was the company that put a sky message above NYC denying Turkey’s 1915 Genocide of 1.5 Million Armenians. Tell GEICO Skytypers that rewriting history in the sky IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.” People were encouraged to contact the flight lead for Skytypers who approved the message. The campaign went viral and generated hundreds of responses to GEICO Skytypers.
“This formal apology from GEICO Skytypers should be encouraging to all Armenians who were disturbed in the face of the rampant genocide denial propaganda that has occurred nationwide over the last month,” Kaloustian said. “No voice is too small when raised in unison with others who speak out for what is morally right. We hope this will serve as a message to other publicly held companies who may be ignorant on the subject of the Armenian Genocide. We are here. We are numerous. And we remember. Educate yourselves BEFORE running ads such as these.”
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
Editor’s Note: The text from GEICO Skytypers apology is below:
April 25, 2016
“Those Who Have the Privilege to Know Have the Duty to Act”
To those who have been offended by our recent skytyped messages, please accept our most humble and sincere apologies. Below is a recap of how we became involved with the messages. Please understand, we were hired by a third-party agency to promote an event. We clearly did not understand what we were promoting. Had we taken the time to further investigate references made, we would not have accepted the project.
At the onset, please note that GEICO sponsors the Skytypers for air shows. They are in no way involved with the promotional advertising side of the Skytypers organization. GEICO works in conjunction with the team and air show organizers regarding messages during air shows only.
Please also note the Skytypers only type messages on the east coast. We do not offer banner towing or other aerial forms of advertising. We were not involved in any of the activities on the western coast of the U.S. that took place on April 23-24. In fact, after realizing our own mistake, we encouraged the west coast skytyping team to forego their scheduled involvement with these activities.
Recently, the team conducted what started as a standard and routine practice. While making preparations for a number of back-to-back air shows, we quickly completed a group of skytyped messages. A third-party agency hired the team to skytype these messages as just one component of a larger promotional campaign. Given the peculiarity and inclusion of non-English messages, we asked about the nature of the campaign. We were assured by the hiring agency that there weren’t any concerns with the message content. The message content was provided less than 20 hours prior to the requested time for the flight. There was little time for vetting on our behalf.
The day after typing the messages, the team arrived near Langley, VA to conduct media flights for an air show. Things were a little more complicated than usual because the planes were arriving from different locations and a remote airport was required. There were lot of activities taking place requiring the assistance of everyone onsite. During this same time, the team received a call from a reporter inquiring about the nature of the messages on Wednesday. Quick questions during the initial call implied there was concern, but the nature was unclear. The reporter was assured someone from the team would return his call.
During the bevy of activity surrounding the air show, the reporter was contacted. If you’ve never been blindsided by repeated inquiry, consider yourself fortunate. During the call, a number of accusations were levied implying bad intent and harm on behalf of the team. The questioning led to subsequent research from the team owner, Larry Arken. The peculiar, but relatively innocent, messages included references that weren’t quickly recognizable, especially given the nature of translations. But we had the assurance from the hiring agency the content had been researched and the intent was safe and harmless. We quickly learned otherwise.
“Were you aware of,” “Would you have,” and “Did you consider,” questions are incredibly overwhelming when they surround the quick and sudden realization that the “innocent” messages may have deeper implication than anyone could have considered. “Turkey = Truth Peace” or citing websites seemed quite innocuous, unless you’re aware of the historical and sociological undercurrent. Some of the message content should have raised flags, but in a rush and with the assurance from the hiring agency, we typed messages that should have never been promoted. There is no excuse for carelessness, especially when harm is caused, however we are guilty of ignorance, not ill intent.
The Skytypers have a long-standing practice of not participating in any sort of political or politically motivated advertising. Given our recent unfortunate interaction, the team is currently developing an Ethical Advertising Policy in hopes of not repeating this again. We’ve also warned other advertisers about the lessons we’ve since learned.
A majority of the team members are former military aviators and military personnel. All of the team members are strong supporters and members of education programs, military organizations, civic and community groups, and non-profit organizations.
As referenced, the Skytypers are sponsored by GEICO for air shows. With the air shows, there are often skytyped messages for military tributes, air show sponsors, and air show information. Separate from air shows, the team skytypes for purposes of advertising. The messages typed over NY on April 20 did not involve GEICO whatsoever. They were not only unaware, but completely uninvolved.
Various members of the team have been contacted through social media, messages, emails, and calls. Some have been moderate in addressing disdain for the implied support. These interactions have enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of the events that took place more than 100 years ago and caused us to consider aspects not readily available through research. These individuals and organizations have helped to educate us on the issue.
We are clearly guilty of not taking time to research the messages before they were typed. We are guilty of not understanding the intent behind the messages. In a rush, we accepted a vendor’s assurance the content was acceptable. We’re also deeply apologetic for these messages. While some of the team owner’s comments in the news article are words he/we wished could be retracted, they were offered in a bit of a state of confusion. Larry clearly did not understand the references behind the messages and quickly became entangled in a discussion regarding topics for which he only had limited awareness or inaccurate information.
Larry Arken and the team would like to offer our most sincere apologies to those hurt by the messages. While inexcusable, this was an act of ignorance, not support for a cause we do not believe in. We also offer apologies to the team sponsor, GEICO, and to our aviation partners and supporters for the events related to these messages. Many of you have been unfairly targeted and approached.
We are attempting to learn from and forego this sort of activity in the future by including a formal policy as part of standard operating practices. We will not get involved in promotional advertising for politically motivated campaigns and plan to have a formal policy in place in the near future.