Thanks to SepticIsle for pointing me towards an earlier version of MAOAM's fruity fruit-wrapper hoax. It turns out that yesterday's Daily Mail story about the supposed Pontefract resident "Simon Simpkins" being offended by the sight of a lemon and a lime getting it together on a sweet wrapper wasn't just (as I had assumed) an example of lazy journalism. It's also an example of lazy advertising.
In 2004, according to a now-disappeared report on internet news service Ananova preserved on the Museum of Hoaxes website, authorities at the St Blasien Jesuit College, a boarding school in Germany, complained about the lascivious packaging in remarkably similar terms. After a bit of digging, I found the original story preserved in an old newsgroup archive:
A Catholic college has complained about new Haribo sweet wrappers which it claims portray fruit in sexual positions.
"We are shocked at the shameless presentation of sexual practices on the wrapping, which includes not only sexual intercourse but also fellatio and cunnilingus," wrote the St Blasien Jesuit College near Bonn.
The letter, complaining about the new packaging of Haribo's Maoam fruit chews, added: "It's irresponsible, to expose children to such pornographic representations."
The sweets wrapped in bright yellow, red and green colours show lemons, limes, strawberries, cherries and oranges playfully romping with each other. But the college sees it differently. They were especially opposed to the lemon flavoured chews, which "undoubtedly show a green figure having sex with a lemon.
"The lemon, which from the drawing looks female, is obviously enjoying it with the greatest of pleasure."
Spokesman Marco Alfter said: "The new wrapping is certainly fruitier than the old. But we have not had any other complaints. In fact until now the feedback has all been positive."
A stroke of marketing genius? Not necessarily. It was soon revealed (says Museum of Hoaxes) that the source of the complaint - which apparently featured in several German tabloids - was a group of pupils at the school who "admitted writing it and posting it on the internet as a joke".
One small problem - the St Blasien College does exist (unlike the Simpkins family of Pontefract) but is located near Freiburg in the Black Forest, nowhere near Bonn. A small mistake in the report - or evidence that it was those cunning advertising people after all? (A German report today, picking up the Simpkins tale, describes the earlier incident as "a successful PR campaign for Haribo")
P.S. Haribo is claiming that the letter in Tuesday's Daily Mail from "Mr Simpkins" was, in fact, genuine - and that Simpkins really had complained to them. It's possible, I suppose, that there is a self-motivated hoaxer out there calling himself Simpkins who just happens to have timed his spoof complaint to coincide with Haribo's marketing push. But I remain unconvinced. If Simpkins exists, why hasn't he come forward to be interviewed, or at least owned up?
The Daily Mail is the respectable face of tabloid journalism, yet it happily promotes a bogus story for which there is not a jot of evidence.