For the first time in the history of the South Bend-based restaurant company, billboards are being removed less than two weeks after Hacienda launched a new advertising campaign.
Hacienda has instructed a local billboard company to remove its ads by the end of this weekend because it upset a number of area residents. The ad made a reference to the cult led by Jim Jones and the mass suicide he coordinated in Jonestown in 1978.
In fact, the billboards sparked the most complaints the company has received in the shortest amount of time, said Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda, which also owns the La Senorita restaurant chain in Michigan.
“Our role is not to be controversial or even edgy. We want to be noticed - and there's a difference,” Leslie said in an interview last week. “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.”
Patricia Barbera-Brown of South Bend, who lives a few blocks away from one of the billboards on Mishawaka Avenue, said she was so shocked when she initially read the message, she drove around the block.
“I thought perhaps I had misread the sign,” she recalls. “It brought back quite a few horrible images and memories, and the very notion that a local restaurant would trivialize such a worldwide tragedy to simply increase their sales of cocktails is outrageous to me, and it offended me to the core.”
She wrote to Hacienda.
“Are you kidding? That isn't funny at all,” Barbera-Brown explained in her e-mail to company executives. “In my book, there's nothing funny or amusing about that at all, and I find it to be extremely offensive and very irresponsible marketing.”
Hacienda executives responded in writing, apologizing for offending her and informing her that the billboards would be taken down. Leslie does not remember another time Hacienda has removed a billboard, although it's possible certain campaigns have been cut short in the past.
Like many restaurant companies, Hacienda uses billboard advertising to connect with the community and resonate with customers. Every year, Leslie said company leaders look at their restaurants, the economy, their customers, and the competition to determine an idea or theme to use for advertising.
This year, Hacienda decided to use “You belong.” You have a place at home, a place at work, and a place to dine, gather and celebrate at Hacienda. As they brainstormed about how people belong to clubs and teams, they discussed how an entity can develop a cult following of like-minded people.
Some people may dress alike or eat the same food or visit the same restaurant or drink the same drink - like margaritas, Leslie said.
“You start playing with headlines,” he said, “and that's how we ended up with the outdoor board. But we are not getting the reaction we expected. It went the wrong direction, hit a nerve, and we have come to realize we should not have done this billboard. We lose the core message.”
Katherine Sredl, assistant professor of marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, agreed.
Sredl remembers thinking the very same thing when she recently drove past one of the Hacienda billboards.
“I remember thinking it doesn't work for Hacienda,” she said. “They want people to think there are more things to love there than the food, but it's not the right humor for its clientele.”
From a strategic point of view, Sredl said the message came across wrong. Hacienda responded fittingly.
“They did the right thing to take it down,” Sredl said. “It's Hacienda. It's like South Bend's dining room. Everybody knows it, and you don't want to mess up your positioning with consumers. It's absolutely appropriate.”
Have you heard?
Penn Station East Coast Subs is planning to open its second area location on March 1 at 4007 N. Main St., Mishawaka. … The liquidation of All Stars sporting goods store, located at Toscana Park, Mishawaka, is slated to end today. … Thanks to those readers with good memories who wrote in Friday. Hobby Lobby is located in a former Builder's Square store, not Silo's. And Borders is located four blocks south of the former Barnes & Noble store. There are still a lot of vacancies in all directions. … Our next online live chat is scheduled for noon Tuesday.
Heidi Prescott's column runs on Fridays and Sundays. When she's not shopping, contact her at email@example.com or skype_pnh_print_container">574-235-6070.