Hell Pizza‘s billboard campaign linking George Bush with the phrase, “evil bastards”, has finally been found to be offensive by New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Complaints Board. The offensive billboard in question was part of an advertising campaign in Auckland and Wellington in August 2005, featuring two billboards with the phrases, “Hell – Too Good For Some Bastards”, and “Even Hell Has Its Standards”, and the free phone number, 0800 666 111. A Hells Pizza billboard from Auckland- “Hell – Too Good For Some Evil Bastards”.
The Hell Pizza George Bush campaign was first launched in August 2005 with seven billboards in Auckland and Wellington. After many complaints the Outdoor Advertising New Zealand and UMC Advertising took the billboards down. Because of the company’s self-regulatory action the campaign was not considered by the Advertising Standards Complaints Board at that time.
Matthew Blomfield, Managing Director of Hell Pizza’s advertising agency Cinderella, said in 2005 that they expected to cause a bit of a stir. He said that the billboards were meant to provoke discussion and be a little edgy, instead of bland, boring advertising.
Hell Pizza decided to test the waters again by erecting the billboard in 2006. The public response was immediate. This time the Advertising Standards Complaints Board had to consider the campaign.
One complainant wrote, “I object to the use of this language in such public sight where people might (a) take offence, and (b) have to explain the advert to children. I realize that in parts of society use of this word is fairly common, but more often than not in that case it would be used within the context of a group of people who do not take offence to it. This advert on the other hand by its public nature cannot show any discretion or decrement with regards to the appropriateness of the audience viewing the advert.”
Another complainant wrote, “Mr Bush is a GOD-fearing upright man who (I would say) will never be seen in Hell. It is a terrible and vicious smear campaign against a person who is openly a Christian…. Secondly to say that “Hell is too good” – is a complete and utter disregard of GOD and His purposes. Hell is the absolute indisputable worst punishment for anybody. So to suggest that it is even remotely good is terribly misleading. Then to have a photo of an upright, publicly GOD-fearing man which stands for what he believes is right is an immoral, vicious undermining of his authority.”
A defaced billboard from Wellington – “Even Hell Has Its Standards”.
Cinderella told the board the billboard was erected to capitalise on the growing sense of outrage that was building around the invasion of Iraq and the role George Bush had played.
“We believe, and given the even greater opposition to the war in Iraq and George Bush’s plummeting popularity among voters in the US, that the billboard was not only socially responsible, but incredibly prescient given events that have unfolded subsequently,” the agency said.
It also noted that “much to our chagrin, the billboard company acted unilaterally (much like George Bush in fact) and removed the billboard as soon as it received complaints”.
Regarding the “bastard” complaints, Cinderella said use of the term was widespread in New Zealand and could sometimes even be a compliment.
“We would point the Board to the seminal work by New Zealand author Barry Crump (Crump Productions Ltd 197I) His book, ‘Bastards I Have Met’ was a wide-ranging, almost academic study of the different types of bastard that one could encounter throughout New Zealand.”
“Of course George Bush had not yet come to prominence when Crump was writing, but had he been in office at the time, and if Barry had met him, I feel sure he would have qualified for his own chapter, headed ‘Evil Bastard’.
“As it stands, George W could certainly fit within the genus of bastard identified as a `Bad bastard’ (bastardus skullduggerus), or arguably for a subgroup of this particular type of bastard – the `real bad bastard’ – although that is not for us to say,” the agency said.
At its meeting on January 31 the ASA decided that the term ‘evil bastards’ was offensive because of exposure to all members of society, including children. Accordingly, the Complaints Board ruled that the advertisement, in relation to the use of that phrase, had not been prepared and displayed with a due sense of social responsibility and would be likely to cause serious offence, thereby breaching Basic Principle 4 and Rule 5 of the Code of Ethics.
The Complaints Board was unanimously of the view that the other issues raised, although offensive to the complainants, did not meet the threshold to cause serious or widespread offense, and thereby the advertisement was not in breach of the Advertising Codes in relation to those issues.
Basic Principle 4: All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society; and
Rule 5: Offensiveness – Advertisements should not contain anything which in light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence taking into account the contest, medium, audience and product (including services).