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Real Deal: The Case of the Offensive Ad

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[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

[dropcap cap=S]unset is a 15 year-old high-volume, high fashion fine jewelry store located in a progressive college town in the Northeast. Bonnie Lake, the owner of Sunset, takes great pride in her continuing effort to bring the finest in fashion and designer names to her store. Sunset’s reputation in the town is stellar, and Bonnie has, over the past five years, firmly established her store as the fine jewelry and diamond source in the market.[/dropcap]

 

 

Marketing for Sunset has consisted of a well-calculated mix of Internet, radio and print ads, many of which have won awards for the store and Bonnie’s chosen ad agency. All of the ads, regardless of media, have been produced in a tone that stresses the store’s fashion-forwardness as well as its “home-town” values — youthful, but somewhat conservative. Romance and relationships have always featured prominently in the message. Electronic media ads have often included the voice of Bonnie herself, talking about romance, the store and her choices in product.

In the Fall of 2009, Bonnie, after a great deal of campaigning, secured for Sunset a high-profile and prestigious designer bridal line, including a wide selection of engagement rings and both mens’ and womens’ wedding bands.  The line has a very strong reputation among retailers and consumers for contemporary design and quality in craftsmanship and materials.  The company is also well known for their aggressive, impactful and somewhat avant-garde advertising campaigns. In fact, it was the strength of the company’s marketing and their marketing support of retailers that made them very attractive to Bonnie as a vendor-partner. When the line arrived in the store, Bonnie’s young and enthusiastic staff was delighted. They encouraged Bonnie to push hard to get the word out about the line’s debut at Sunset. Her staff reviewed the company’s new print ads as a group and found them to be a bit daring, but youthful and exciting nonetheless. Most of the ads featured typical young couples in romantic and affectionate positions, about to share their “diamond engagement” moment.  A few of them, however, featured very tasteful presentations of same sex couples exchanging rings in wedding ceremonies – an element Bonnie had not even considered when thinking of the line, but which made a great deal of sense when she considered the generally open nature of her state (one of the few to have already legalized same-sex marriage) and of her college-centered town.   After much discussion with her team, Bonnie chose one of the more traditional ads to run as a full-page, color feature in the local newspaper to announce the arrival of the designer’s line in town and in her store, and one of the ‘alternative ads’ to run both on her website and in the College paper.

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From the morning the ads broke, Bonnie and her staff began getting strong complaints from all over town. The store logged a total of 43 complaints that day, as many people called or sent emails to let Sunset know that they found the ‘traditional’ ad to be inappropriate, distasteful and downright offensive as did to make the same complaint about the same-sex couples ad. Some told Bonnie they were very disappointed in her lack of judgment in running the ‘risque’ traditional ads, while others said that because she was willing to contribute to the destruction of the institution of marriage by running the same-sex ads, she’d lost their business permanently. Few of the complainants identified themselves. The Sunset team took some comfort in seeing that, in between the nasty e-mails were a good number of positive, supportive messages, complimenting Bonnie and the store on their willingness to stand up for both artful advertising and equal rights.

At the end of the day, Bonnie pulled all the ads (which had been scheduled to run for three days in the paper and through the month online), then met with her staff to discuss how they should handle the situation. The overwhelming feeling among the group was one of anger with the general public for misinterpreting the ads’ message and seeing them in a negative light.

 

 

[h3][b]The BIG questions:[/h3]  Should Bonnie keep the ads running and hold to her principles regarding both artistic advertising and support of same-sex marriage, or should she bend to the conservative element in the community?   What, if anything, can Bonnie and her team do now to minimize the damage that may have been done to their reputation in town? How can Bonnie reverse the negativity her staff feels toward the whole experience, and what should they be telling customers who come in still commenting on the episode?[/b]

Editor’s Note: Real Deal Scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The characters should not be confused with real people.

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[span class=note]This story is from the October 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

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