Comment | Hyde Park ad – Shock advertising should be challenged

If, like me, you didn’t know about Red’s True BBQ until this week, you’ll have seen their latest shock marketing campaign to stir social media. The company have launched an ad mocking vegetarianism using a design not unlike those advertising mental health or domestic abuse helplines.

Coming at the end of Mental Health Awareness Week and the beginning of National Vegetarianism Week, it’s insensitive and bad taste. The advert makes a lazy attempt at humour but falls flat. All in all, it’s a dull, mildly disrespectful poster. According to a well-known critic, their food isn’t that great either.

Most of the online reaction has settled upon the word “offensive” to describe the ad. But of course it’s offensive: the point is to trigger reaction. The company’s idea is to allow the enraged student Twitter sphere to do their work for them and they’ve succeeded. This time next week, the outrage will have passed but we’ll still remember the restaurant’s name.

Responding to the outcry on social media, the restaurant has posted a blog apologising for mocking vegetarianism, stating that they are “currently liaising with media owners to update the billboard”. However, there is no apology for mocking mental illness or domestic abuse charities.

According to Mind, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. The most common form of mental illness is mixed anxiety and depression, which affects about one in ten. Refuge, a charity that deals with domestic abuse, says that two women each week are killed from domestic violence.

But these facts probably never occurred to Red’s True BBQ.

Of course, the company isn’t the first to use shock marketing. The problem is that describing something shocking as “offensive” isn’t enough to make it disappear. It takes positive action to make a change.

So how do we counteract this sort of banal marketing in future? The obvious reaction is to not react at all, suffocating the company of lucrative airtime. But what if it’s too late?

One strategy is to harness social media to raise awareness of the issues trivialised by the ad in question. Clearly, the scale of mental health and domestic abuse in this country deserves far more attention than a short sighted advertisement.

Sites like Twitter are a powerful tool. Stephen Sutton’s incredible fundraising achievement would have been impossible without the power of instant communication and the positive action of thousands. Meanwhile, all that Red’s True BBQ has done is cause negative reaction to make a profit.

Leo Garbutt


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