Lessons from a controversial billboard.

Eva-Michelle Spicer of Spicer Greene Jewelers in Asheville, NC, wasn't trying to cause a stir when she put up her now-famous billboard featuring the words "Sometimes, it's OK to throw rocks at girls" surrounded by gems.

"It never even crossed my mind," she told INSTORE this week. "I don't think like that. I don't look for things to be offended by."

But some found Spicer Greene's ad offensive, saying it made light of violence against women. The store ended up apologizing on Facebook, and last week it changed out the billboard. The new one says "Asheville Rocks!" with a diamond serving as the "o." Spicer said it's a "thank you" to local supporters.

The controversy raises an important question for jewelers: Is the attention that an edgy advertisement might bring worth the potential backlash?

We asked several owners and managers of stores that have been honored in our America's Coolest Stores program — and their opinions were across the board.

Kathi Main of Kevin Main Jewelry in San Luis Obispo, CA, clearly believes that you can't live in fear of offending people.

"I think it's awesome, clever and NOT safe!" Main said of the Spicer Greene billboard. "Hopefully, people will chuckle and they'll remember your business name and that you have a sense of humor!"

Britten Wolf of BVW Jewelers in Reno, NV, agreed and might even try the same message.

"Sad that people don't see the play on words and feel a business would publicly promote violence when trying to get their business," he said. "Will be putting this on my board in front of my store just to see if responses are the same here in the West."

Laura Kitsos of Gem Jewelry Boutique, Oak Park, IL, noted that Spicer Greene has been updating its atmosphere and products to appeal to younger generations.

"The billboard shows they have humor and an innovative approach to rebranding themselves," she said. "Perhaps the people they offend are those they no longer really want to serve anyway? I'm sure that wasn't their intention but sometimes the most controversial marketing is the most succcesful."

Debbie Fox of Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, CA, said it's important to tailor your approach to your business.

"Controversial marketing can effectively draw immense attention," Fox said. "If your digital presence is robust, then you can benefit, but it's a short lived burst that can hurt your local image. The decision depends on your marketing strategy. We depend upon our local market and reputation, but I tip my hat to them!"

And Jennifer Farnes of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, doesn't feel it's helpful to go too far out on a limb.  

"It's important to be memorable but purposeful," she said. "Edgy may get a chuckle or tick people off, but that doesn't really give people a reason to walk through your doors."

Spicer said she plans to have fun with future advertisements but won't use this particular one again.

Still, the controversy doesn't seem to have hurt her business. Sales are up 28 percent this month.

In many cases, the people who complained already had negative feelings for the jewelry industry, she said.

"They're not our customer," she said. "I'm not going to tailor my advertising to people who don't like jewelry anyway."INSTORE Spicer 878

This article is an online extra for INSTORE Online.

 
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