Hell Pizza is again stoking controversy with a new advertising campaign referring to the recent furore over a Tongan man caught barbecuing his pet dog.
The controversial pizza chain's new ad for gluten free brownies says: "At least our brownies won't eat your pet dog".
The billboard is an obvious reference to the recent controversy created when Tongan man Paea Taufa was caught roasting his pitbull terrier-cross in an umu at his Mangere home.
The brains trust behind the new Hell Pizza campaign is a 19-year-old advertising student and his three friends.
Hell Pizza spokesman Matt Blomfield said they had brought in the four students from the Auckland University of Technology to revitalize the brand.
“All the advertising agencies are crap so we thought we’d let some kids have a crack,” he said.
Alan Jones, 19, a third year advertising student at AUT said he was happy with his product and wasn’t worried he had potentially offended a significant part of the community.
“It’s a recession there’s enough bad stuff happening, you’ve got to kind of poke fun at people in times like this, you know,” he said.
“I don’t really consider it as that bad. Some people might kind of construe it as being a bit racist but I mean, it’s just a topical issue at the moment, I mean, it could’ve been anyone, it just happens to be the' Tongan eating the dog story' at the moment.”
“I definitely wasn’t trying to offend anyone, I was kind of hoping that the majority of people would laugh at it and maybe a couple of other people would take offence.”
He said they had given thought to the potential they could offend some people but went with it anyway and he would face up to any consequences.
“I guess I’ll have to deal with it,” he said.
“At the end of the day I’m just the kid that came up with the idea. I’m not the guy that made the billboard or put them out there or approved it, I mean, this was one of my more wild ideas and it just happened to get approved.”
He said New Zealand was too PC.
“The bottom line is we just want people to eat brownies,” he said.
He said he would reveal any details of further billboards and said he was not sure what impact this would have on his future job prospects.
“It could be the best thing that’s ever happened to me or I could be blacklisted for life but that’s just a gamble isn’t it. I don’t know you’ve got to try before you know.”
The original owners - Callum Davies, Stu McMullin and Warren Powell - recently bought back the company from TPF Group, which owns the Burger King franchise, after selling it in 2006.
There are about six of the billboards up around Auckland and there were many more to follow.
“Basically what’s happened is we’ve handed the reins over to some kids and letting them come up with ideas and we’ll see how far they push it.”
Advertising Standards Authority executive director Hilary Souter said today they had received one complaint, but more were likely.
While Hell Pizza had a reputation for edgy marketing, she said each new complaint was judged on its merits.
"It's really all about, in the board's view, is this ad in breach of our codes.
"Advertising is a pretty creative business and people push some boundaries and sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong," she said.
"I think that people have to be a bit careful because people who understand brands will tell you that this sort of thing can backfire on you."
She said one complaint was all they needed to investigate, but "if we are looking for evidence of serious widespread offence then obviously the number of complaints is a factor".
There have been a total of 29 complaints about Hell in the past, but only five have been upheld.
They included condoms being placed in people's letterboxes, a 'Kids are Evil' campaign, one saying Hell was too good for George Bush, a radio ad where a mother and daughter swore at each other, and one referring to having "messy" sex with Jenny Shipley.
The last complaint was at the end of last year.
The next board meeting was on September 8 and the billboard could remain up until then unless Hell Pizza decided to remove it.
Race relations commissioner Joris de Bres saw the humour in it but said: "Well I just hope their pizzas aren't in as poor taste as their advertising."