May 12, 2014, Updated May 14, 2014
Jantjie “interpreting” for President Obama at Mandela’s funeral. https
Jantjie “interpreting” for President Obama at Mandela’s funeral. 

Genius move or tasteless advertising campaign?

The jury (social media) is debating the audience-grabbing move Israeli startup LiveLens has served up by hiring disgraced phony sign-language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie for a new ad campaign.

Users on Facebook and talkback platforms are trading barbs over whether the mentally ill South African imposter from Nelson Mandela‘s memorial service should have been cast in the commercial for live video streaming.

“We decided that the guy who had the worst live show ever would be the best person,” LiveLens CEO Max Bluvband told NBC News while justifying the decision.

LiveLens is promoting a new app that lets users click a button and instantly share a streaming video on Facebook.  

The company hired a Zulu-speaking journalist to visit Jantjie in the psychiatric hospital at which he’s incarcerated and got him released for one day to shoot the marketing campaign. Reports say the ad was shot in just a few hours.  

In the ad, Jantjie first pokes fun at himself for not really knowing how to sign, apologizes to the world for the embarrassment, and then reminds viewers that “the most interesting things happen live.”

“We saw him with our own eyes; he’s a normal guy,” Sefi Shaked, LiveLens’ marketing manager, has been quoted as saying in numerous reports. “Now he can have the closure and earn some money from it. It’s morally right. We see it as sort of a sad story with a happy ending.”

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in the US didn’t quite agree. The group issued a statement saying it “expresses outrage and disappointment that any company would think it appropriate to hire and portray any individual who has become synonymous with mockery of sign-language interpreting based on his extremely offensive actions at the funeral of Nelson Mandela.”

Talkbacks on social media sites show mixed reactions. Some people are very happy to see Jantjie getting a second chance. Others are utterly confused by the move and are siding with NAD.

LiveLens, meanwhile, says it is surprised by the feedback.

“We never thought our video ad would gather so much interest from people. There is absolutely no disrespect meant at deaf people or anyone! The interpreter was ‘starring’ before on SNL, Jay Leno and others. It’s also ok to give people a 2nd chance. Thamsanqa is mentally ill and admitted several times he made a mistake that day. Should he be banned for life? Please share your thoughts,” the company posted on its Facebook page.

Watch the video here and then have your say on whether this is tasteless or genius:

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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