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It's a flatpack world as Ikea tops the bible

BRAND WATCH - Ikea overtakes the Bible, no news on the Koran, Puma gets a reputation boost and Umbro realises it's wrong to name a brand after a Nazi poison gas used in the Holocaust, writes Jennifer Whitehead in this week's Brand Watch.

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John Lennon and Liam Gallagher may both have made questionable claims to be bigger than Jesus, but all three pale in comparison to the Swedish furniture company Ikea. It actually is.

Ikea's catalogue, where flatpack fetishists can lust over Billy bookcases and Poang armchairs, has overtaken the Bible in popularity. This year 110m copies of the catalogue, which is printed in 46 languages and distributed in 33 countries, will be distributed -- a circulation four-times the size of the Bible.

And it achieves this all without the benefit of being left in the drawers of hotels and motels across the globe, but now I mention it, Ikea might be a better hotel read than the Gideon's. Now if only those motels would take a leaf out of the Ikea catalogue when it comes to furnishings.

Puma found its products splashed across the world's media for all the right reasons this week, when the world's number one female tennis player Serena Williams unveiled her new look at the US Open.

Her new look is a short-sleeved, hot-panted black catsuit that looked as if it had been spraypainted on to Williams, who teamed the outfit with pastel pink trainers. It was the first thing reporters asked her about when she faced the media following her opening round match (which, incidentally, she won). PR execs take note: this whole woman-in-a-skimpy-outfit stunt could just take off.

Puma's rival sports clothes manufacturer Umbro was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, after the Holocaust charity the Simon Wiesenthal Centre complained about a trainer made by the company that is named Zyklon. Zyklon was the name given to the poisonous gas pellets that were used to murder so many Jews in Nazi death camps.

Umbro swiftly apologised for the offence, and said that the name Zyklon is being phased out internationally. It was changed in Britain three years ago.

Also caught on the hop this week was the RAC, after one of its distinctive rescue vans, normally such a welcome site to motorists, was spotted parked at a British National Party festival.

Reports say that several people contacted the motoring organisation to find out why the vehicle was in the BNP's official carpark. No explanation has yet been given, but the RAC has said it is a serious matter and that it will investigate fully.

In the US, it was the right wing that was complaining. Pepsi announced that it was withdrawing an advertisement featuring the rapper Ludacris, after a right-wing TV presenter and columnist Bill O'Reilly described the soft drink company as "immoral" for using him in its advertising.

However, it is unlikely O'Reilly was the only one who objected, as Ludacris' lyrics include lines such as: "Can't turn a ho into a housewife/Hos don't act right /There's hos on a mission/And hos on a crackpipe".

The soft and friendly image of Hershey's, the biggest confectioner in the US, was under threat as the takeover saga rolled on. Swiss food giant Nestle -- which has a less soft and friendly image, thanks to its policy on powdered baby milk formula -- is rumoured to have offered $11.5bn for Hershey's. However, its bid faces fierce opposition from unions and residents of Hershey, Pennsylvania, the town that was built around and relies heavily on the chocolate maker.

To be fair, Hershey's workers are not keen on any kind of a sale, which is going ahead after members of the trust that runs the company decided it needed to diversify its interests. Kraft Foods and Cadbury Schweppes are also reported to be considering bids for the company.

Some of the UK's biggest high-street fashion brands are also looking at the possibility of new ownership, with Philip Green, the brash billionaire boss of Bhs, set to take over Arcadia, which owns Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge.

However, the £775m deal could be threatened by the news that Baugur, the Icelandic company supporting Green's bid, has been raided by police, as its chairman and chief executive stand accused of fraud. Arcadia's board is currently considering the 408p a share offer made by Green.

As the anniversary of September 11 swiftly approaches, Saudi Arabia is increasingly concerned about its image. It is responding by flinging millions of dollars at the problem, and hiring a slew of PR advisers and advertising agencies to help the kingdom improve its image in the face of the fact that of 9/11 hijackers, 15 were Saudi nationals.

Talking of people in need of good PR. Poor old Santa Claus -- the one man who usually does not need any help in reputation management has this week been branded a thief on Swiss radio. Swiss officials have rejected a complaint against a radio show, where a presenter said that she thought Santa Claus had stolen the spirit of Christmas.

The remarks caused a furore among Swiss Christians, but authorities have said that the comments do not violate any articles of faith, and said that the "mythical figure, who has not been known all that long south of the Alps, does not require special protection in programmes".

It is not known if Santa has hired a PR agency to fight back against the claims.

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