Hunky-Dorys-adAn advertising campaign for Hunky Dory’s crisps (otherwise internationally known as “potato chips”) which featured women in revealing clothes playing rugby with taglines such as “are you staring at my crisps” attracted a large number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland in May 2010. Each advertisement also featured a second tag line which states “proud sponsors of Irish rugby”.

The ASAI received over 300 complaints in the days after the billboard campaign commenced. The complainants generally felt that the campaign was offensive, exploitative, tasteless, degrading and sexist towards women. In addition there were complaints that such advertisements bring advertising into disrepute. Complainants include the National Women’s Council, the Rape Crisis Centre and the Union of Students in Ireland. The ASAI adopted an initial fast track procedure because of the volume of complaints which seemed to indicate the campaign was causing widespread offence. They ordered that on an interim basis the advertisements be withdrawn pending a full investigation and decision. The advertiser accepted this and the advertisements were withdrawn within 3 business days of the request.

Separately the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) released a statement in the Irish media indicating that its solicitors had contacted the advertiser directly arising from the claim “proud sponsors of Irish rugby”. It stated that the claim implied that the advertiser was a significant sponsor of the sport in Ireland even though the IRFU had no involvement with the advertiser. The implication was that this was ambush marketing and capitalising on the popularity or rugby in Ireland. The advertiser’s response to this was that it sponsored the Navan Rugby Team, a team which plays in Division 3 of the Irish League and was therefore perfectly entitled to state that it is a sponsor of Irish rugby even if its sponsorship was of a lower league, amateur level team.

Ultimately the ASAI Complaints Committee assessed all of the complaints received and the response of the advertisers. The advertisers had addressed the various points in the complaints and felt that this was a campaign which was meant to be entertaining and had received widespread support from the public in the media. They produced emails of support received from members of the public. They said that the images were of women in sport and not intended to cause offence or condone dangerous behaviour. However having regard to the volume of complaints received the Complaints Committee concluded that the advertisers were in breach of the Code and the advertisements should be permanently withdrawn from all media to include the advertisers own website.

As the advertisements were withdrawn so promptly the more interesting issue of the claim “proud sponsors or Irish rugby” between the IRFU and the advertiser was we suspect not taken any further. The campaign is an interesting Irish example of how ambush marketing can generate maximum exposure at a relatively low cost.