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06/12/2013 03:47 GMT | Updated 04/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Sir Richard Branson Criticised After 'Shameless' Virgin Active Nelson Mandela Comments

SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 18:  Former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, and U.K. billionaire Richard Branson listen to Peter Gabriel sing 'Biko,' in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday, July 18, 2007. Mandela, South Africa's first black president and a Nobel peace prize winner, today announced the formation of a global think-tank of world leaders called The Elders. He used his 89th birthday today to launch the group.  (Photo by Greg Marinovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Bloomberg via Getty Images
SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 18: Former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, and U.K. billionaire Richard Branson listen to Peter Gabriel sing 'Biko,' in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday, July 18, 2007. Mandela, South Africa's first black president and a Nobel peace prize winner, today announced the formation of a global think-tank of world leaders called The Elders. He used his 89th birthday today to launch the group. (Photo by Greg Marinovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sir Richard Branson is under fire for referring to his health chains while talking about Nelson Mandela on BBC's Newsnight.

The business magnate has been blasted for reportedly linking the death of the legendary political figure with the expansion of his health club chain.

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Furious social media users have accused the company of using Nelson Mandela's death to promote its brand.

As news broke of Mandela's death, Virgin Active Australia also launched a "premeditated, complete screw up" on their Facebook page, a marketing expert has said.

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Carolyn Miller, a panellist on the ABC's Gruen Transfer, which analyses advertising and marketing, said companies should never view a newsworthy death as a PR opportunity.

"Considering what Mandela has done in his life, it does seem shallow to associate your brand with him on his death by remembering his involvement in your gym launch," said Ms Miller.

Jonathan Pease, executive ideas director at public relations agency Tongue, said Virgin's actions were a "pre-meditated, complete screw up".

"Virgin were clearly waiting and ready for Nelson Mandela to pass away. I have to wonder who else Virgin is waiting to die.

"This is akin to those celebrity photos you see on the wall of your local pizza shop. The photo insinuates that the pizza shop owner knows the celebrity but in truth the celebrity just came in for a pizza!" said Mr Pease.

Sir Richard, describing himself as a close friend of Mr Mandela, has also posted a long tribute praising the former president... and describing how the icon helped "thousands of wonderful South Africans" become a "part of the Virgin Active family."

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