Just Spell the Name Right: Leveraging Outrage to Get Attention

So all publicity is good publicity—that’s a cliché so it must be true, right? “Spell the name right,” the huckster character in the hard-boiled movie says.

A recent Nation’s Restaurant News article collects five controversial ads, a couple of which are just now being submitted for the public’s approval and/or outrage.

One is for Pizza Patrón and contains a word that you’re apparently not supposed to say to a polite Spanish-speaker. (This poster is the follow-up to a non-censurado version that I am apparently too sensitive to post.)

Pizza Patron says something it maybe shouldn't but they're getting a lot of publicity so now they're glad they did.

Another is for Taco Bell, causing me to recall the moment where I went from understanding the inexplicable hit “Afternoon Delight” as a pop song on the school bus radio and suddenly understood it to be an incredibly naked description of having sex at a particular hour of the day.


Also, of course, NRN includes another crass Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s ad that appeals to both its “hungry young men” demographic and probably a slightly younger than “men” demographic and then, for good measure, all the pervy older members of less frequently mentioned demographics.


God, that’s so unsubtle I can’t even give them the usual credit I allow for at least understanding their audience. THAT ONE WAS TOO EASY, GUYS.

The article contains a couple other examples of brands taking the low road, including Joe’s Crab Shack.

So, what makes a brand able to do this? Obviously, brands aiming at the youth market can get by with more than someone like Starbucks or McDonald’s, companies trying to include absolutely everyone in their big tent. But it also is a gamble—and I’m not saying this from a moral high-horse. The more dumb, deliberate outrage you court, the less you can be taken as someone people can trust. If your brand is the equivalent of the guy who says, “That’s what she said!” after practically everything and then laughing harder than everyone else, you’re eventually identified as immature and essentially banished until everyone’s ready for foolishness again. Not everybody is in the mood for this all the time.

When you have lots of chances to communicate with your audience, like Taco Bell, the immature moment turns into one aspect of a larger campaign. When you’ve given up on everybody except “That’s what she said”-ish boys, you can take the Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s route, I suppose. But if you have limited funds and can only get people’s attention now and then, choose carefully.

Right now, I only know Joe’s Crab Shack and Señor Patrón as naughty-talking goofballs.

On the other hand, I believe I did spell “Patrón” correctly.

(sigh) Okay. Vominos, then. Vominos, muchachos.