Prophylactic-and-pizza promo goes too far

Nov. 6, 2006
Hell Pizza, a 64-unit chain in New Zealand, has made international headlines by promoting its new Lust Pizza by direct-mailing 170,000 Hell-branded condoms. (It's a meat-lovers pie. Get the connection? Real marketing brilliance at work.)
Family groups and the Catholic Church in the island nation are outraged the company would not only have the audacity to send condoms to complete strangers, but to insist its purpose is noble. Hell claims its bifurcated intention is to sell pizzas and promote safe sex. (Read also The Editor's Blog: One Hell of a tacky way to promote pizza.)
I'm no marketing genius, but I see some wildly mixed messages here.
Warren Powell, an official at Hell, told, that "promoting the use of condoms has important public benefits. ... Before this campaign started we rang a number of these agencies and offered them our excess condoms at no charge."
I guess that makes Yankee pizza makers old-fashioned cornballs by comparison. Who'd have thought the most effective way for a pizzeria to serve the public charitably while promoting itself was to give food to people who are hungry? Hell's aim, I suppose, is to reach out to the horny.
So cocky is Hell about its condom campaign, Powell insists it won't apologize for it. Ignoring consumer revulsion over children finding condoms — complete with explicit instructions for their use — in their parents' mail shouldn't offend, he said. Such finds should force parents to talk to their children about sex.
This guy must be one multitalented dude. In one sentence he leaps from pizza purveyor to parenting authority.
Thanks for your concern, Mr. Powell, but I'll give my son "the talk" when I, not you, sense he's ready for it.
What are they getting at?
I can't get beyond the question of "What's the point?" when I read about this. Clearly Hell's intention is to titillate customers in order to sell pizzas, but is the negative buzz it has generated helping that latter aim? Such marketing makes me doubt whether there truly is no bad publicity.
The thought brings Hardee's legendary Spicy BBQ Burger commercial to mind. If you never saw it, it centered on a scantily clad, wet-and-soapy Paris Hilton washing a car while eating one of the behemoth burgers. The ad also played on the company's Web site and drew so much traffic it crashed the site.
Though the $6 Burger appears to be a sales success, to the best of my recollection, Hardee's never said whether the Hilton commercial helped much. Its relatively limited run makes me suspect it didn't do much other than provide some thrills for dudes ogling America's most infamous slattern between football quarters. I can't imagine female viewers thought much of it, but females aren't Hardee's target for gut-busting burgers anyway.
I don't recall much outrage over the commercial, and perhaps the reason

start quoteIt's definitely something that could get Jerry Falwell's panties in a bunch. Sending condoms and talking about an erect penis in the mail ... nope, not even for me. I just perceive some fallout and a risk of offending my customer base.end quote

— Kamron Karington, Author, The Black Book of Pizzeria Marketing

why was because the sex for sale was on TV; a quick channel change could end it for unreceptive viewers. But Hell's condom promotion literally hit home — where the family is — and that's too close for comfort.
That rubbers were mailed directly to residents also offended the Catholic Church in New Zealand. In an article on Catholic Online, Bishop Denis Browne, president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference, said, "Advertisers, in terms of the principles in the NZ Advertising Standards Authority code, are required to uphold decency and good taste in their advertising material, and are warned not to advertise in a way which offends against generally prevailing community standards. Clearly, to put unsolicited condoms and sex advice in people's letterboxes as part of your advertising campaign for a pizza goes beyond the merely tacky, it is a breach of those standards and an affront to New Zealanders."
Amen, brother.
Kamron Karington, author of "The Black Book of Pizzeria Marketing," is an unabashed supporter of daring marketing ideas that drive sales. But even he said he'd have damned Hell's promotion had someone floated the idea back when he owned a four-unit pizza company.
"Maybe we're both wrong and sales are up 30 percent at Hell because of this," he told me. "But I'm like most people who, I think, would come home, see my child has this condom they're looking at and questioning me about ... and that would have me in an uproar. As wacko as I am, I would never even let that one get off the drawing board."
Not only is such a campaign potentially offensive, Karington said Hell ignored one of the laws of smart marketing: conduct small tests before launching larger efforts.
"At the least I would have rolled out a 1,000 sample test," he said. "Sending out 170,000 condoms across the board is not only wasting a ton of money, you just know you're going to be offending big chunks of people."
He said Hell would have been much smarter to have focused its mailing on the demographic most likely to respond positively: college students and males ages 18 to 25.
The broader cultural impact is important as well, he added. In Holland (a country where legal entertainment includes watching humans have sex with animals), such a promotion wouldn't raise an eyebrow, Karington said. But in the United States, where some decency remains — well, OK, Hollywood doesn't count — Karington views the prophylactic-and-pizza promotion as too risky.
"It's definitely something that could get Jerry Falwell's panties in a bunch," he said. "Sending condoms and talking about an erect penis in the mail ... nope, not even for me. I just perceive some fallout and a risk of offending my customer base."

Topics: Commentary , Marketing

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