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Reebok pulls 50 Cent ad in UK

Reebok International Ltd. pulled an ad featuring rapper 50 Cent from United Kingdom airwaves over public concern that the spot glorifies gun violence, but the company declined to disclose its plans for the ad in the United States.

The Canton company's absence of action on the domestic front angered local gun-violence prevention groups, especially because gun-related deaths are far more prevalent here than in England and other industrialized nations.

''If Reebok doesn't take the ad off the air in the US, it should be ashamed of itself," said John Rosenthal, cofounder and chairman of nonprofit Stop Handgun Violence, the Boston group responsible for the antigun billboard on the stretch of the Massachusetts Turnpike between Brighton and Copley Square.

More than 50 television viewers in the UK complained that the spot ''glamorizes and perhaps glorifies gun culture," said Donna Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the Advertising Standards Authority, an independent regulator of advertising in the UK.

In the ad, a camera slowly pans in on 50 Cent as one of his raps serves as the ad's soundtrack: ''Shot nine times in Jamaica Queens. 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7 . . . 8 . . . 9 . . . Tell me, who you planning to massacre next?" Then, 50 Cent laughs, kicks up his Reeboks and stares straight into the camera as the tagline, ''i am what i am," appears on the screen.

Reebok pulled the 50 Cent ad last week from UK television. The ad is part of the sneaker maker's biggest advertising campaign in a decade that features star athletes and celebrities.

The company did not return repeated phone calls to the Globe yesterday seeking comment and on whether it planned to continue running the ad in the United States or elsewhere.

In an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News, Reebok spokeswoman Denise Kaigler said the ''i am what i am" campaign is ''intended to be a positive and empowering celebration of this right of freedom of self-expression, individuality, and authenticity." 50 Cent, a former drug dealer with a lengthy rap sheet, was shot nine times outside his grandmother's house in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.

Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence said he called Reebok chief executive Paul Fireman nearly a month ago to complain. Rosenthal was put in touch with another company executive, and he told her that the ad was ''unconscionable." According to Rosenthal, the executive said she appreciated his concerns, but the ad was meant to celebrate a person's individuality and not to judge how other people live. Rosenthal said he did not find the answer satisfying.

''To glorify the fact that 50 Cent has been shot nine times and to use him as a role model for inner-city kids to sell your product is a dangerous thing," Rosenthal said.

Betsy Boggia, cofounder of the Greater Boston Million Mom March and a member of the New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, began an informal campaign to pressure Reebok to pull the ad. She e-mailed contact information for various Reebok executives to a coalition e-mail list, urging people to call the company.

Boggia said the message teenagers are likely to get from the ad is: ''I was shot nine times and survived so I'm tough."

''That isn't what you want to be promoting," she said.

Naomi Aoki can be reached at naoki@globe.com. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.

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