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Offensive restaurant billboard pulled.


This just might be one of the worst thought out marketing campaigns ever.


  1. Oh my gosh.
    I am pretty stunned - I can't believe this ever got approved...horrible.

    The comments were pretty appalling as well

    1. I think if the restaurant had left off the "to die for!" bit it might have escaped notice but that's what pushed it over the edge. I remember Jonestown--I was 13--but it was less a "worldwide tragedy" situation and more of a "stupid idiots" situation in most people's minds, which is why "drinking the Kool-Aid" has become a staple in popular lexicon for people mindlessly following along with something and probably why the restaurant thought going that route might be funny.

      5 Replies
      1. re: MandalayVA

        I don't ever recall any articles or discussion that referred to these people as anything less than murder victims, which is exactly what they were.

        1. re: NellyNel

          That's because you remember. If you're under the age of 35 you don't and I guarantee that was the demographic this ad was reaching for. And I take it back--for some reason I always thought it happened in 1979 and it was actually 1978.

          Just out of curiosity I showed this ad to a few young coworkers of mine. None of them thought it was really that funny but it wasn't because of the reference but because "'drinking the Kool-Aid' is getting really lame." Only one of them knew about Jonestown and that's because it was a trending topic on Yahoo yesterday. A lot of young'uns think "drinking the Kool-Aid" is from a movie. And none of them, even when it was explained where the reference came from, thought the ad particularly offensive, including the vegan who once e-mailed the entire department in outrage over a Canadian restaurant ad that read something along the lines of "I like animals right where they belong, next to the mashed potatoes."

          1. re: MandalayVA

            Sad, sad state of affairs. To paraphrase a quote by Sant y Ana, "He who doesn't remember the past is condemned to repeat it." And I don't necessarily mean conscious, personal memories. This stuff needs to be taught and remembered as an awful, poisonous (no pun or play intended) historical event and an example of why people should be aware of the huge danger involved in giving one central person that much power.
            MandaylayVA, I came off at you kind of sharp, and I do apologize for that. In context, I grew up in an area where many of the victims hailed from.....Ukiah, California, 'bout 40 miles over the hill from home. We knew some of the victims, and many of their families. It resonated hugely in our community for that reason; it was very very personal to a lot of us. So, my response was predicated on my memory of the huge and terrible outcry, specifically in my locale, a/w/a what appeared to me to be people's unthinking and trite responses.

            1. re: mamachef

              No big deal and I understand that personal knowledge of people involved in something like this skews the view somewhat.

            2. re: MandalayVA

              I am 25 and this is the first time I heard of the orgins of the whole Kool Aid Cult sayings. It has almost become a generic stigma to quote ANY cult to sucide using kool aid-- almost jokingly or ironically put never serious .... It is a sad event and wish people would not need outside influences to feel important

        2. That has got to be one of the sickest, most reprehensible pieces of advertising lunacy I have ever borne witness to. The "idea man" who pushed it must have not been around for the horror of Jonestown, and the suits who agreed, complete idiots.
          Kids died at Jonestown.
          Families died at Jonestown
          People were beaten at Jonestown
          Human Rights were violated at Jonestown
          Wives lost husbands
          Husbands lost wives
          Children lost parents
          Friends lost friends.
          People died, horribly and in fear and pain, at Jonestown. And this company wants to invoke that horrible, horrible event as a way of pushing friggin' booze?
          I keep thinking that nothing can really suprise me anymore, but if we can substitute "appalled, sickened, and angry" for suprised, well, this one did.
          For shame. Shame on them all.

          8 Replies
          1. re: mamachef

            Just as appalling to me, are the many comments referring to the victims as "idiots".
            These people were forced to feed their children the poison, and watch them die..they were all murdered.
            Absolutely disgusting.

            1. re: NellyNel

              They were NOT idiots or anything even close to it, NellyNel. You are soooo right. They were a group of unfortunates looking for a better life who were brainwashed in the most classic of ways. The law of averages, MandalayVa, dictates that there couldn't possibly be that many "Idiots" grouped up in one spot. Were the Jews who followed orders and marched into the death chambers, "Idiots?" I think not. I KNOW not. This billboard trivialized an event which has sadly lost some of it's import in the mist of time and memory. But I bet there'd be a much bigger outcry, if say, that billboard had shown a line of people marching to the chambers with the caption, "Get your Gas here! It's cheaper!"
              It's all relevant. And Jim Jones was a monster.

              1. re: NellyNel

                Yes to everything mamachef and NellyNel said, I was in my 20's and living in Berkeley at the time and it seemed as if the world had turned on its axis. Those poor people. Poor Congressman Ryan. Poor families left behind. This is about as low as advertising could possibly stoop.

                1. re: NellyNel

                  I believe if they didn't drink they were shot.

                  The Murder of Congressman Leo Ryan was part of the carnage.

                  1. re: Withnail42

                    I just posted an interview with Congressman Ryan's daughter on Facebook that addresses that terrible day. Maybe then people will think it's EXTRA-humorous.

                    1. re: mamachef

                      It's on my post above as well.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Hah, bt. Where do you think I lifted it from? Us old hippies have GOT to band together and keep the rage alive, and activism in the forefront!

              2. I thought the final line, about the humor and audience, said it best.

                I think the first/premier episode of "Family Guy" was an episode that parodied some cult that believed that a spaceship was following the Hale-Bop (Betting a spelling mistake there) comet. Many considered that to be offensive and I can see their point. Shows like the "Family Guy" and "South Park" are popular because they seek to find humor is risque subject matters and events. So, there's an audience for the stuff and I think many of them would have found the billboard funny. I didn't see a deliberate attempt to offend for attention, so didn't think it was a big deal.

                As for bad marketing campaigns, I don't think any company will ever top what Hell Pizza did.

                6 Replies
                1. re: ediblover

                  I'm just wondering: in what universe do the "audience" who would "enjoy this type of humor" live?

                  1. re: mamachef

                    I agree.
                    I am a fan of Family Guy, actually, as are quite a few of my friends.
                    I can say, without doubt, I know no one who would find this ad funny.

                    I am not familar with "Hell Pizza" or what they did. I can't imagine....Anyone?

                    1. re: NellyNel

                      It's a New Zealand pizza chain that's gotten in trouble a few times for their ad campaigns:


                    2. re: mamachef

                      Uh, South Bend, IN, mamachef. I showed the ad to the Spouse who used to live and work there, once upon a time. Didn't surprise him at all that the billboard ran there.

                      Btw, his personal response was along the lines of "Ugh."

                    3. re: ediblover

                      Family Guy and South Park can get away with it because they're cartoons. If it was a sit-com with real people, I think they would probably have to tone it down quite a bit.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Yes, I also think that it is different when talking about a t.v. show. You can turn it off...a huge public billboard is not something you can choose to overlook.

                    4. I'm more bothered by what bad advertising it is than I am offended by it. If someone is stupid enough to want to associate their product with such an awful event, I can only assume equal intelligence and taste goes into their food. Not a place I want to eat.

                      1. Two phrases seem to be the problem here. Kool Aid has become a sort of political catchall term and has lost its shock value to much of the population, and "to die for" is a way overused bit of hyperbole. (Would you die for some restaurant's braised lamb shanks or creme brulee? I sure wouldn't.)

                        The billboard was certainly in execrable taste. Which puts it right in line with much of the social and political discourse going on in the country.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Akitist

                          Aymen, and Aymen again, Akitist.

                        2. I remember quite clearly that when Jamestown just happened
                          each of us examined our groups of our choice.

                          To just what extent maintained individuality
                          as opposed to a march of the lemmings,

                          It is surely event belongs not on a billboard
                          but within calibration of each daily moved soul.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: FoodFuser

                            That, my friend, is true and pure poetry. Well-put, FF.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              I am glad Mods afford us the space to discuss of these issue now thirty years running.

                              While we mostly partake of the chat of the food

                              there are issues will always be timeless.

                          2. I remember Jonestown too and find it absolutely incredible that any advertising firm would come up with such a promotion.

                            For the historians among you, there's always been some question as to whether Kool-Aid was actually used at Jonestown. It may have been a similar, competitive product but the first people on the scene referred to it as Kool-Aid and that's what stuck.

                            1. Wow! Someone from restaurant corporate and the advertising firm was paid to come up with this!

                              They'll be promoted for this.

                              1. http://www.kraftbrands.com/koolaid/
                                You gotta wonder why Kraft Brands never took a stand. Their kool aid of the family & fun variety is still very much a popular product and to be associated with Jones and other negative images can't be good.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: HillJ

                                  Agreed with the lack of Courage of Kraft.

                                  1. re: FoodFuser

                                    Absolutely, and 100%.
                                    There is a rumor (unverified) that it wasn't actually "brand" Kool-Aid, but an offbrand called Flav-r-aid. There is a possibility that Kraft didn't want to make huge noise about it because the product wasn't actually their product and they wanted to downplay any association whatsoever by not even touching the subject. Who knows.

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      Except the entire world associates the product and name KoolAid, not Flav-r-aid, with this horrific event and equally with the phrase "kool-aid" used in ads (like this OP example). If Kraft didn't make a huge noise about it the rest of the global world sure did. Again, given the lengths that food companies go to, to protect their brands for any number of reasons, you have to wonder why nothing was ever done to counter the negative association.

                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        you are 100% of right, HillJ. On re-thinking the very least they could've done was find a way to disassociate.

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          Ok, then there's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Should General Foods have gone after Tom Wolfe and the publisher simply for referencing Kool-Aid?

                                          I guess now's when I should say this billboard appeals to my very twisted sense of humor.

                                          1. re: MplsM ary

                                            Having read the book, I'm familiar with it's publication date (1968). Simpler times.
                                            Jim Jones (1978)...

                                            I can't speak to the should-a...but today the politically correct and the popularity of dark humor run neck and neck. Twisted sense of humor or not, the fact that the sign was pulled fairly soon after it's installation makes me believe not enough people found it funny.

                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              "Twisted sense of humor or not, the fact that the sign was pulled fairly soon after it's installation makes me believe not enough people found it funny."

                                              Makes me believe people take time to formally complain about the wrong things.

                                              1. re: MplsM ary

                                                Or are willing to admit to their mistakes. Either way, I am glad the decision to take the billboard down didn't cause any major issues for South Bend.
                                                "Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda, acknowledged that the billboards were a mistake. He said the South Bend-based company ordered the signs removed less than two weeks into Hacienda's new advertising campaign."

                                                "Our role is not to be controversial or even edgy. We want to be noticed -- and there's a difference," Leslie told the South Bend Tribune. "We have a responsibility to (advertise) with care, and that's why we're pulling this ad. We made a mistake and don't want to have a negative image in the community."
                                                There have been a number of billboards in question in the news lately...all concerned the practice of public message. The wrong thing to focus on has different meanings.

                                                Now I'm back to my delicious lunch :)

                                  2. I think people, in general, are too sensitive.

                                    Somebody mentioned Hell Pizza above and commented about how their marketing has drawn ire from various groups, but I actually think a lot of what they do and have done is pretty clever.

                                    As regards the billboard in question, the Jonestown Massacre occurred a few years before I was born, but I have studied history enough to know the genesis of the phrase "drinking the kool-aid," and while I certainly don't find the billboard funny, I can't say I find it particularly offensive either.

                                    People just seem to enjoy getting offended.

                                    1. I have a really macabre and twisted sense of humor and I am not easily offended. But making jokes about (real) innocent people dying is in poor taste -all the time. There are some things that just should never be funny. It think this holds true for massacres of all kinds. There are plenty of other things to joke about.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: sedimental

                                        Ya - I agree with sedimental -
                                        I'm usually the one who is annoyed by overly-sensitive people...but this pisses me off!

                                        1. re: sedimental

                                          That's a very interesting observation, sedimental and Nellynel, because anybody who knows me in real life would tell you that I too have a macabre, twisted and black sense of humor. I laugh hard at the non-pc; the South Parks, the Family Guy; even Monty Python and his troupe were guilty of completely inappropriate but hysterically funny humor.
                                          But yes. This goes way beyond a tasteful pale.

                                          1. re: mamachef

                                            Absolutely, me too!

                                            I have a good friend at work, who is very kind hearted, but also very young. He is 30, so wasnt even born at the time of Jonestown.
                                            I showed him the billborad, and this post and asked him his POV.

                                            Almost not surprisingly he said he did think it was kind of funny.
                                            He admitted he didnt know too much of the story, but that "lots of idiots killed themselves" (not his excact words, but that was the gist of what he meant)

                                            I think a major problem here, is that from the beginning, the story read as: Mass "Suicide" at Jonestown. It is still veiwed as such today.
                                            It should have been called a Mass "murder" because that's what it was.
                                            Perhaps young people would have a slightly different POV if they didnt think these people willingly, blindly, killed themselves.

                                            1. re: mamachef

                                              Me too (I am about as non pc as you can get). I am completely irreverent in my humor. However, jokes about horrific real events- the holocaust, Sept. 11, Pearl Harbor, apartheid, etc...... just not funny.

                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                As distasteful, irreverent, offensive, and just plain crude as I find this this billboard is/was; If any Corporation, partnership, or sole proprietor wants to commmit a marketing error of this magnatude it is the entity's protected right of free speech. This is akin to the highly offensive "Artistic display" of religious icons in NYC made of dung, urine and in pornographic poses.
                                                It may offend many but to restrict its utterance, print, or display is a much worse condition of all of us who value the Constitutiion.

                                                1. re: ospreycove

                                                  Yes, I don't think anyone would advocate that it be illegal.

                                          2. The replies in this thread have drifted widely from the original topic, and are no longer focused, even tangentially, on food. We've locked this topic so the discussion is still available in searches, but we'd ask everyone to return to discussing food.