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Ad strategy: attract complaints?

By Steven | February 27, 2008

Surely Hell Pizza is trying to make its ads offensive so that it can attract extra publicity by having complaints against them upheld. How else to explain its direct mail ad that says:

Hell Spicy BBQ Pork Spare Ribs are by all accounts a lot like having sex with Jenny Shipley – messy but good.

I’m guessing Hell knew the ad would be shot down, and eagerly anticipated the free media publicity (like this, perhaps?). Hey, extra bang for your advertising buck. So to speak.

Hell isn’t the first to twig to this tactic. But it does raise some questions about the advertising regulatory system. There’s no extra penalty for deliberately flouting the system, even if that could be proved. There’s no real way to stop the complaints system being used as leverage for extra publicity. And the ASA’s only remedy (having the ad withdrawn) only kicks in after the pamphlets have all been delivered. I doubt they were planning on using that ad again anyway.

Which raises an interesting general question: how many of the decisions upholding complaints against ads are delivered after the ad campaign is already over? If a company knows that its ad campaign will be finished before any complaint can be ruled on, and that the only penalty it can expect is to withdraw the ad that it is no longer using anyway… how much of an incentive does that company have to comply with advertising standards? And if the company wants to promote an image as edgy and daring, don’t the incentives work the other way?

I should point out that many of the ASCB’s upholds a lot of complaints on the grounds that they are misleading, and that’s hardly a reputation any company wants.


Topics: Advertising Standards | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Ad strategy: attract complaints?”

  1. Rob Hosking Says:
    February 28th, 2008 at 7:19 am

    It’s a good tactic.

    A number of film festivals have been doing it for years. I swear they send an advance programme to the community standards groups.

  2. otherguy Says:
    February 29th, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Just theoretically — and without giving anyone any ideas — would Shipley have any legal avenues in this instance?

    Is it okay as political satire or is she potentially defamed?

  3. Steven Says:
    February 29th, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Rob: I’m not quite sure about that one. Or at least, that strategy may have backfired. In at least one past film festival they were sweating on opening night about whether the Film and Literature Board of Review would restrain some of their key movies.

    Other guy: It’s hard to see this being defamatory, and harder to see Jenny Shipley giving it currency by suing. What exactly is the sting? How would you rebut it? Her legal avenue is the Advertisting Standards Complaints Board.


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