Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hot-crossed marketing

Hell Pizza has never shied away from “controversial” advertising and marketing. Their delivery of condoms to promote their “Lust” pizza several years ago got them into both controversy and trouble, but for the most part their unique marketing strategy has sparked little outrage.

That couldn’t last, of course.

The company erected billboards (pictured above) to promote their hot-crossed buns, available for a limited time: “A bit like Jesus.” You can imagine what came next.

Lloyd Ashton, media officer Anglican Church told the New Zealand Herald that “the campaign was disrespectful to many religions and the people who followed them.” (Anglicans do know that while there are many flavours of Christianity, it’s considered one religion, right? If so, how is it disrespecting, oh, say, Buddhists?). He said:
“They [the billboards] join a long line of advertising that's in questionable taste that slings off [at] things that lots of people hold precious. It's disrespectful to what a lot of people hold very dear."
And that’s actually true. But Ashton did himself no favours later by turning snotty:
"The ad is another example of already over-remunerated ad people getting paid more to churn out 'risque' ads. They've dared here to take a clumsy poke at something that numbers of people hold sacred."
He can’t possibly know whether the remuneration received by the ad people is too high, too low or just right. That comment was just plain bitchy (and, I could add, not very Christian).

Hell Pizza director Warren Powell predictably suggested the billboard would spark “debate”. But then he added, with refreshing candor:
"We expected it would spark some debate and some talking between people in the offices. Which is good. It means our marketing budget works a little bit harder.”
This may have stopped there, another tempest in a teacup, were it not for St. Matthew-in-the-City, a progressive Anglican church that disagreed with Lloyd Ashton and put up its own billboard (pictured below). The church has had its own controversy about billboards, so this wasn’t unusual for them.

Priest-in-charge Clay Nelson told the Herald that, "The purpose of the billboard is to suggest that you can't put all Christians in the same box." Fair enough, and I’m always glad when liberal Christians stand up for their beliefs, providing some balance to conservatives.

Nelson also made a good point: “Sometimes we do take on our fellow co-religionists to say 'look, by making a fuss about this all you did was give them even more publicity—is that because you like Hell Pizza so much, or what?'”

That point is often lost on liberals and conservatives alike. But I also like another of his points: "We are just reminding people we shouldn't take ourselves so seriously about such things."

And that, for me, is the bottom line: The fate of the universe will not be determined by the existence of these billboards—either billboard. If we freak out every time someone says something we don’t like, pretty soon we’re in permanent freak-out mode and eventually no one will take us seriously about anything.

So, this is kind of a cautionary tale about reaction and over-reaction, and about how either can end up helping spread awareness of whatever’s upsetting us. We really ought to be sure it’s serious enough to warrant all that. To me, this is not one of those times.


d said...

haha! I *so* love this country - can you imagine if someone tried this on in the US?

Arthur Schenck said...

Do you before or after the billboard was burned down and hundreds of death threats received? :-/