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Helen Keller sunglasses create a stir

Xiamen Jinzhi

The ad campaign promises: "You see the world, the world sees you."

Is it a smart thing to try and profit off of someone else’s tragedy?

One company seems to think so.

A Chinese fashion firm, Xiamen Jinzhi, has named a line of its sunglasses Helen Keller

This is no marketing mistake, or lost in translation. A spokesman for the company, Chen Wenjing, told the Wall Street Journal, they were well aware Keller was blind, but saw merchandising value in her “philanthropist spirit.” 

It appears Helen Keller is a famous figure Chinese children learn about in school, according to the article. But maybe the fashion company’s marketing team didn’t pay attention when the course was taught. On the company’s Helen Keller sunglasses website, someone seems to have picked up a reference about Helen Keller from Wikipedia, “Helen Keller: She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.”

The company even produced an ad for the HK glasses, including paparazzi and a model donning the specs. When she puts on the glasses, the paparazzi go wild, and the promo promises: “You see the world, the world sees you.”

Just in case you're wondering, there is no record of Helen Keller ever having worn sunglasses, said Carl Augusto, president of the American Foundation for the Blind, an 90 year old advocacy group that Keller worked for up until her death in 1968. "There is no evidence she wore sunglasses in our archives of 1,500 photographs and 80,000 documents, not a mention or photo of her wearing sunglasses," he said.

As for the use of Keller's name to hawk a product, Augusto said, "we're never happy unless Helen Keller is portrayed in a way we feel she should be portrayed, as an inspiration and someone who showed the world that people with disabilities are just like everyone else."

That said, he admitted, Keller had quite a sense of humor and probably would have "laughed hysterically" when she heard about the strange homage to her legacy.

While the name choice may seem odd and distasteful, it has gotten a lot of press attention from around the globe, including this headline from the UK's Daily Mail: "Cultural Blindspot?"

It's the type of exposure every company craves, but in the end what does it say about the people behind the name?

Keller may have said it best: "The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision."