Samsung gasoline stunt brings Madrid traffic to standstill

Campaign offering 50 euros' worth of free fuel forces police to close highway exits

"Offer suspended," reads this sign, as police close of the gas station offering free fuel.
"Offer suspended," reads this sign, as police close of the gas station offering free fuel.Juan Carlos Hidalgo / EFE

What started out as a novel promotional campaign by electronics giant Samsung quickly turned into a public order problem at one of Madrid’s main transport hubs on Tuesday.

The South Korean company had announced on social networks that anyone wanting to fill their car up with 50 euros’ worth of free gasoline simply had to head along to the gas station at the roundabout that links the M-40 freeway with the Campo de las Naciones between 8am and 8pm on Tuesday and show their Samsung smartphone.

However, the influx of hundreds of drivers to the station hoping to take advantage of the offer blocked the flow of traffic around the area, and the event had to be suspended at 2pm after local police ordered the gas station entrance to be blocked.

Beforehand, the Civil Guard had been forced to close the two exits of the M-40 closest to the gas station, which is situated at kilometer 7.4 of the freeway, as a result of the huge tailbacks the lines had caused since first thing that morning.

At the roundabout, officers tried to manage the flow of traffic with partial closures of the entrance to the gas station, but to no avail. In total, the promotion blocked traffic for a near two-kilometer radius around the service station.

A security guard at the gas station on Tuesday said the premises had been “swamped all morning” owing to a lack of foresight over the reach the campaign would have: “If they had done it in several gas stations... but just in one, what did they expect?”

Official sources confirmed on Tuesday that neither local police nor the Civil Guard had been made aware of the campaign nor of its potential effects on traffic circulation.

Bylaw breach

The only punishment that Madrid City Hall can impose on the organizer is a fine for breaching a bylaw relating to exterior advertising, owing to the fact it failed to ask permission to install its promotional posters at the venue.

One of the workers at the gas station, who was sporting the logo of the manufacturer, explained that the promotion had been suspended “because of overcrowding and the danger it entailed,” and admitted that “the situation had become difficult to handle.”

The Spanish division of Samsung on Tuesday felt obliged to explain in a statement that “owing to the enormous response from users and on the recommendation of the authorities” the closure of the promotion had had to be brought forward.

The company had organized the campaign to celebrate the sale of five million units of its latest smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note, the same device that is sponsoring the Sol Metro station in downtown Madrid until March.

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