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‘Banter Marketing’: How far can you push it?

Ah, Christmas. It’s that wonderful time of year when the streets twinkle with festive lights, children excitedly set about making their wish lists, and baked goods giant, Greggs, turns baby Jesus into a sausage roll in the name of seasonal advertising.

In an advert dubbed downright disrespectful by some, Greggs promoted its nativity scene Christmas advent calendar – where customers get a voucher for a different Greggs item each day – by depicting Jesus the Saviour as Jesus the Savoury Snack.

The response was mixed. Prominent members of the Christian faith spoke out against the advert, claiming it showed “a total disregard and disrespect towards one of the greatest stories ever told.”

Others were less fazed by the pious parallels, describing it as a bit of “good old British humour” and “simply hilarious.”

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, one thing is clear: the advert received a serious amount of attention.

The #GreggsNativity hashtag trended for two days straight following the advert’s release. Not only that, but the chain claimed that it sold out of sausage rolls in multiple stores nationwide.

As a result, one commentator described the campaign as “marketing genius” thanks to its ability to make him want a sausage roll.

All of this begs the question: how far is too far when it comes to ‘banter marketing’, and, when successful, does the sales increase make the moral question mark worth it?

The use of humour within advertising has a long-standing reputation as a clever and effective technique to get consumers on board. For decades, advertisers have connected with customers through the use of comedy, and to great success.

Bookmaker Paddy Power has been known for its comedic campaigns for years, and it too has dared to swap Jesus for an arguably less holy figure.

In the lead up to the European Football Championship in 2012, the gambling company unveiled a 108ft statue modelled on Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, depicting then-England manager Roy Hodgson overlooking the white cliffs of Dover. The gag was that Hodgson was going to use ‘divine intervention’ to salvage the England squad’s prospects in the tournament.

He didn’t, of course, but the ad nonetheless went down in Paddy Power’s long list of campaigns that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Of course, the firm is not short of unhappy viewers, and the ASA received a total of 552 complaints about its adverts in 2012 alone.

Perhaps most controversial was its ‘Ladies Day’ ad, which encouraged viewers to pick out transgendered ladies among the racegoers at Ascot, using the line ‘Spot the stallion from the mares.’

The backlash was huge, with LGBT activists branding it as having “irresponsibly reinforced negative stereotypes” of transgendered people.

Basking in the infamy, Paddy Power went on to launch its ‘Chav Tranquiliser’ online campaign to support the Cheltenham races, depicting so-called ‘chavs’ among the crowd being taken out with tranquiliser rifles.

That same year, Paddy Power reported a 15% increase in profit. Marketing Director Christian Woolfenden described the brand’s approach as causing mischief as opposed to offence, saying: “If you look at the brand equity, mischief is about being funny and irreverent, not offensive, a nuisance or reckless.

What do you think? Should it all just be taken with a pinch of salt and a sense of humour, or are the likes of Greggs and Paddy Power crossing a dangerous line?

But whatever you think, one thing can’t be ignored: ‘Jesus’ said backwards does sound remarkably like ‘sausage.’

For more information on how we can help you with your brand marketing strategy, please contact gary.hebblethwaite@hroc.co.uk

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