Crisp campaign may be thin end of the wedge


MEDIA & MARKETING:The brouhaha about a snack campaign shows standards body has yet to grow teeth in the face of sexist posters

ALTHOUGH IT’S frowned on by the advertising industry, and society at large, sexist advertising can still achieve that Holy Grail of all advertising – cut-through to the target consumer.

Largo Foods has braved the wrath of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland with its poster campaign for Hunky Dorys crisps, centred on busty women clad in sports gear. Complete with double- entendre tag lines, the posters attracted a threat of legal action and 300 complaints from the public to the ASAI.

The posters are now to be “withdrawn”, although the campaign was never intended to last more than a few weeks anyway.

The Hunky Dorys campaign imagery loosely allied itself with rugby and, on the basis that Largo sponsors Navan Rugby Club, the posters included the message “Proud Sponsors of Irish Rugby”.

This prompted a legal missive from the Irish Rugby Football Union, with the result that the company that put up the posters went back to the sites and blacked out the Irish Rugby reference. Of course, the spat generated media coverage, as did the poster images, adding to the cut-through achieved by the brief campaign.

The ASAI is a self-regulatory body set up and financed by the advertising sector. Its objective is to ensure that commercial marketing communications are “legal, decent, honest and truthful”. The ASAI’s code of practice makes clear that advertisements should avoid sex stereotyping and any exploitation or demeaning of women or men.

The association could not formally make an order forcing Largo to pull the campaign until after its complaints committee meets on May 19th. However, the association requested Largo to pull the campaign and the company agreed.

The ASAI now has the option of insisting that Largo submit any future advertising for approval. The body’s code of practice says that if an advertiser deliberately flouts the code with the intention of generating complaints, PR and subsequent notoriety, the ASAI can insist on a vetting procedure.

Largo has form with sexploitation advertising. In 2005, the snacks brand produced posters showing three scantily clad women and the words: “Which one would you throw out of bed for eating Hunky Dorys?”

Largo’s advertising agency Chemistry had nothing to do with the posters. They were devised by Los Angeles ad agency Challenge Entertainment, run by a brother of Largo’s marketing director. The poster models are American, and the photos were taken by Walter Iooss, whose work features regularly in Sports Illustratedmagazine.

Ray Coyle, owner and managing director of Largo Foods, is unapologetic about his sexist approach. He says: “The target audience for my crisps is young men and it’s highly unlikely that they will have been offended by the ads. The people who have been offended were never likely to buy a packet of Hunk Dorys.”

Largo, which is also home to the Tayto and King crisps brands, is an indigenous company competing against multinationals such as Walkers and KP. In the past decade, Walkers has come from nowhere to claim a 23 per cent share of the Irish crisp and snack market.

Tayto is still number one with 30 per cent, but Walkers is gaining ground.

Coyle insists: “Our marketing strategy is about securing cut-through against competitors which have much bigger marketing budgets. We invested €500,000 on this two-week campaign out of an annual marketing budget of €800,000 for Hunky Dorys. The budget isn’t large enough to produce a decent TV ad and buy prime airtime.”

Largo’s guerrilla marketing approach can be more nuanced than deploying cleavage. Three years ago, Coyle ran Mr Tayto as a candidate in the general election, complete with posters, a YouTube party political broadcast, campaign song and battle bus. The result was that Mr Tayto was the most Googled term in Ireland in June 2007.

More recently, the tongue-in-cheek book Mr Tayto: The Man Inside the Jacket, written by Podge and Rodgecreators Ciarán Morrison and Mick O’Hara, topped the bestseller list last Christmas.

Coyle hasn’t finished with inflated appendages. His next marketing stunt is to put a Hunky Dorys-branded hot air balloon into the skies this summer.

If the ASAI is to retain any credibility, it will have to crack down hard on Largo’s blatant flouting of its code of practice.