For some reason The Hacienda restaurant chain thought an ironic reference to Jonestown was the basis for an ad. Billboards in South Bend, Ind., read “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid’ and ‘To die for.” (Did someone tell them South Bend is a hot-bed of irony? They were misinformed.)
The ads were up for two weeks before the company finally got the message this wasn’t such a good idea.
“Our role is not to be controversial or even edgy. We want to be noticed – and there’s a difference,”said Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda, which also owns the La Senorita restaurant chain in Michigan.
Kudos to Mr. Leslie for not taking the easy way out and throwing his agency under the bus.
The article contains a great look at how this cluster frack came about:
Every year, Leslie said company leaders look at their restaurants, the economy, their customers, and the competition to determine an idea or theme to use for advertising.
This year, Hacienda decided to use “You belong.” You have a place at home, a place at work, and a place to dine, gather and celebrate at Hacienda. As they brainstormed about how people belong to clubs and teams, they discussed how an entity can develop a cult following of like-minded people.
Some people may dress alike or eat the same food or visit the same restaurant or drink the same drink – like margaritas, Leslie said.
“You start playing with headlines,” he said, “and that’s how we ended up with the outdoor board. But we are not getting the reaction we expected. It went the wrong direction, hit a nerve, and we have come to realize we should not have done this billboard. We lose the core message.”
Remember: Anyone can make a mistake but to really screw up you need a committee.
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Living in the area, and enjoying all the billboards they put up (there was a Mexican Restaurant Chain billboard war going on at the time), I especially enjoyed the “Less Artsy, More Fartsy” billboard. I’ll leave the imagery to your imagination.