Hell Pizza has denied copying an Australian food outlet's controversial marketing strategy, using a fake-blood filled syringe to promote fast food.
A promotional stunt using syringes was used by Queensland franchise Burger Urge - in September last year. Hell used a similar campaign this month. The chain has this evening apologised after one of the syringes was given to a child, upsetting his parents.
Wellington couple Mary and Dave Crampton were shocked when their nine-year-old son came home clutching a pen in the shape of a blood-filled syringe.
Joel Crampton was given the Hell Pizza pen as a prize at Upper Hutt's H2O Xtream pool. On the side was written "Hell, creating addicts since 1996".
Last year Australian franchise Burger Urge caused a similar stir and was taken to task by a social worker after 20,000 pens, complete with a plunger and fake blood, were dropped in letterboxes near a Queensland outlet.
Hell Pizza co-founder Callum Davies said the syringe-shaped pens were bought more than a year ago.
He said the pens had been a hit with customers and the current batch was the second shipment
''The first lot of pens were blue, while these are red. Hell Pizza bought the pens before Burger Urge in Australia, which did a similar promotion.''
Mr Davies said recently Hell delivered some pens to Wellington Hospital, where they proved so popular the hospital requested another box for staff.
''This particular campaign was directed at adult customers and has been received by them in the spirit it was intended.
On this occasion, a pen was given by mistake to a child, and we're sorry his parents were upset by it. However, as our Facebook supporters pointed out, doctor-and-nurse role-play is a popular kids' game, toy syringes are available at many toy stores, and the syringe contains mock blood, not drugs.
''Admittedly we're no experts, but novelty pens aren't known to cause drug use - though it can't hurt for people to talk more about addiction,'' Mr Davies said.
On Sunday Mr Davies told The Dominion Post the pens were not supposed to be given out to children. "I would like to know how it happened," he said.
- The Dominion Post
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