A marketing event to promote bottled mineral water Rosa Homolje in the protected nature site Rajko’s Cave, near Majdanpek in eastern Serbia, has prompted fierce criticism on social media from ecologists and nature lovers. As they pointed out, lighting and speakers were introduced into the cave ecosystem to turn it into a living set for a multimedia event, which disturbed the fragile ecosystem of the cave and put in danger protected species living there.
The marketing event, which has provoked an avalanche of reactions from environmental activists on social networks over the past few days, was organized by beverage company Coca-Cola Serbia, in cooperation with partners, the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and the Majdanpek Tourist Organization. The event, intended for the promotion of the bottled water brand Rosa Homolje, was organized for partners, friends, media representatives, and celebrities, inside the protected natural site Rajko’s Cave in the region of Homolje.
As part of the promotion of carbonated natural mineral water, Rosa staged a multimedia visual exhibition inside one of the most beautiful caves in Serbia. In addition to the mineral water brand, the event promoted the natural beauty of Homolje, as one of the most beautiful parts of Serbia and an oasis of pristine nature.
Environmental activists: all life in the cave was endangered
Ecologists’ reactions on social media have clearly labeled the marketing campaign as scandalous and inappropriate. Environmental activists pointed out the bad aspects of holding a multimedia event inside Rajko’s Cave, a natural site that houses the largest colony of a strictly protected species of bats, the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus Hipposideros).
The cave habitat and fauna were destroyed, as the cave was lit up like Las Vegas for the sake of marketing
“The statement said that they wanted to show ‘the power of untouched nature,’ but with this installation they touched it in the most meaningless way possible, desecrating something that is beautiful in itself and endangering the life inside it. Instead of the subterranean river that has carved the cave for thousands of years, the guests could see the hologram of a waterfall, instead of the murmur of water, they listened to music, and instead of the sparkling white jewelry, they saw artificial lighting in all colors,” Mini Eko Zona wrote on its Facebook page.
The bars at the entrance to the cave were covered with artificial leaves, which prevented the free passage of bats, Mini Eko Zona environmental activists wrote on the Facebook page, stressing that the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia approved the entire event.
The cave habitat and fauna were destroyed, as the cave was illuminated like Las Vegas for the sake of marketing, according to ecologists and social media experts.
Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia: if it is true that such activities have been approved and supported by the Institute for Nature Protection of Serbia, we will demand investigation and responsibility for this unprecedented crime
“Bats are extremely sensitive organisms, which are breeding right now. Lighting and noise harm them and lead to the death of cubs. In addition, if it is true that such activities have been approved and supported by the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia, we will demand an investigation and responsibility for this unprecedented atrocity, ” the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia stressed.
Citizens reacted instead of institutions
The reaction has to do with ecology and the state of society, activists say. Why did the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia allow “light show and speakers to be brought into the cave ecosystem and for the cave to serve as a living set for the shooting of photos and videos for influencers promoting the ROSA water,” social media activists ask.
“Mistakes happen, and marketing agencies and influencers may have a justification for not understanding it, but we need explanations from the Institute now. And someone should have inquired more thoroughly about the Rosa water before approving such a promotional campaign,” said Milja Vuković, an environmental activist and administrator of the Facebook group Za manje smeća i više sreće – Zero & Low Waste Serbia, which has over 20,000 members.
Vuković: someone should have inquired more thoroughly about the Rosa water before approving such a promotion
The cave is alive, full of cave life and many organisms for which lighting and music are very problematic. When visitors come to caves, they are warned how to behave, “but when it comes to marketing – do different rules apply?” said Vuković.
“If silence is the main characteristic of the cave ecosystem, then let us respect it,” noted eko_na_moj_način in a statement about cave etiquette on their Instagram profile.
The rules of good behavior in the cave ecosystem include not touching cave jewelry, as well as not using flashes. One of the cave’s features is darkness, so other light sources can disturb the sensitive ecosystem, while lighting in caves that are open for visits is minimized, ecologists noted on social networks.
Misunderstanding the principles of sustainability
The company Coca-Cola Serbia has just published its annual sustainability report for 2021, which emphasizes that it is committed to respecting the principles of sustainable development and ESG standards (the impact of business on the environment, society, as well as corporate governance).
“We are not just talking about changing the abbreviation from CSR to ESG. We are talking about the fact that now, more than ever before, employees, investors, consumers, communities, and NGOs – have certain levels of influence on what we do. Businesses are no longer here just to serve the interests of the owners but of the entire community. And there is the essence of the ESG approach – that caring for the planet, people, and profit are in balance,” Nina Elezović said in an interview with Bizlife.
The message of the Director for Corporate Affairs and Sustainability of Coca-Cola Serbia is very powerful and promising, but the company has a long way to go to put into practice all segments of sustainable development, including biodiversity and protected species.
In addition to deleting posts from social networks, the company has not yet responded to the event and the situation. Neither have the institutions.