The Controversial Use of the Coffin of Famous Dutch Author Harry Mulisch in a Notary Ad

mulischNationale Notaris (National Notary) is an organization of 60 notaries throughout the Netherlands.

The organization wanted an ad campaign for promoting last wills and testaments. It hired ad agency DKTD that came up with the slogan: “Ready to go? Try out the free last will scan of nationalenotaris.nl

The ad needed a strong visual. DKTD approached photographer Merlin Daleman and asked him for permission to use a photo of a funeral featuring six pallbearers with top hats carrying a coffin at the Zorgvliet cemetery. It was the funeral of Harry Mulish, a famous Dutch author whose works include The Assault. The film version of that novel won a Golden Globe and Academy Award.

Daleman said that he told the ad agency “you know that’s Harry Mulisch, correct?” He assumed that it was a national campaign sponsored by the Dutch government to advise people to take care of their affairs during their lifetime. Once he saw the photo featured in the ad, he wondered. “I didn’t expect that, but since they bought the photo from me, they are entitled to use it once as they please.”

The CEO, Albert van der Wijk, loved the ad and ordered 5,000 posters were printed. There are 1,500 posters distributed in 12 cities. The ad also features prominently on the homepage of the nationalenotaris.nl website.

Family members of the late author were shocked when they saw the poster in Amsterdam. They were not informed by the ad agency.

Danny Tournier, owner of DKTD, claims that he himself was not aware that the photo was of the famous Dutch author’s funeral. “It is quite likely mentioned somewhere in the paperwork, but it did not surface at the crucial moment.”

Mr, Van der Wijk also stated that he was not aware that the photo was taken at the funeral of the author who passed away in 2010. “I just thought that it was a beautiful image. I was surprised that the family had not been informed.”

Nationale Notaris contacted the family and wants to see how the organization can adapt the ad campaign if family members so desire. Removing and destroying all the posters would be a major financial setback for the organization.

DKDT also reached out to the family and contacted Frieda Mulisch, the author’s daughter.  According to Tournier: “Frieda and I understand each other. She understands that we chose this photo, but that there was somewhere along the line miscommunication.”

It will be interesting to see what the Mulisch family will decide…

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