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Wonderbra campaign featuring model Eva Herzigova

The Wonderbra campaign featuring model Eva Herzigova

This Budget Travel ad caused a national furore.

This Budget Travel ad caused a national furore.

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The Wonderbra campaign featuring model Eva Herzigova

The sound of jaws dropping and car brakes slamming reverberated across the country this week as Hunky Dory unveiled what can only be described as a mildly pornographic billboard campaign.

You've probably seen the eye-popping ads already. For the benefit of the three of you that haven't, they feature under-dressed female rugby players and more gratuitous cleavage than a swimsuit contest at Playboy Mansion. "Are you staring at my crisps," quips the tag-line in one of the posters in a display of saucy wit that would have Benny Hill shaking his head and sighing.

The billboards have made lots of people very angry at Hunky Dory manufacturer Largo Foods, which already has form when it comes to outrageous advertising. Feminists are aghast at what they say is the gratuitous sexism of the picture, by a photographer from storied US publication Sports Illustrated. Catholic lobby group Iona has protested the image is "grossly offensive and demeaning to women".

Irish rugby's governing body, the IRFU, meanwhile, has objected to Hunky Dory's boast that it is a "proud sponsor of Irish rugby". In fact, Largo has no affiliation whatsoever with the IRFU. Instead it sponsors those giants of the game, Navan RFC. Demanding Largo remove the ads, Padraig Power -- the IRFU's marketing director -- said they were "very bad taste and one which the IRFU would not want to be associated with in any way".

Largo boss Raymond Coyle explained that the intention had been to introduce a little levity into people's lives. ""Everything is so serious and gloomy now," he said.

"And we want to inject a little bit of fun into things."

Even if it it is forced to scale back the €500,000 campaign, Largo will no doubt judge the advertisements a roaring success. In the past few days the controversial images have been plastered all over the media and internet and talked about at length on radio and television, generating millions of euro of free publicity for the Hunky Dory brand. This is a tactic from the oldest playbook in advertising -- the one which states nothing turns heads quite like the sound of a taboo being shattered.

Here are some other infamous Irish ads from the annals.

Chips Ahoy

A 2005 Paddy Power advertisement showing Jesus and the apostles playing poker at the Last Supper was withdrawn after a public outcry. "There's a place for fun and games," wisecracked the ad. The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland received more than 100 complaints, prompting Paddy Power to protest it was merely playing on "the unique Irish sense of humour".

The campaign was quickly binned -- but not before Paddy Power received oodles of free publicity.

A Bum Deal

A 1991 Budget Travel poster in which a curvaceous sun-bather's posterior received star billing caused a national furore. In a display of wit sorely lacking in the Hunky Dory's ad, Budget Travel boss Gillian Bowler responded by slapping a banner across the 'offending bottom' with the words, 'Don't Get Left Behind' on it.

Pope Idol

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary has always subscribed to the theory that bad publicity simply doesn't exist. In its newspaper campaigns, Ryanair has viciously poked fun at political figures such as Mary O'Rourke and Bertie Ahern and infamously had a run-in with Nicolas Sarkozy over an ad featuring the French president and then fiancée Carla Bruni.

In 2001, one of its most controversial ads featured the then Pope, John Paul II, whispering the fourth secret of Fatima to a nun: "Psst! Only Ryanair.com guarantee the lowest fares on the internet." Catholics were aghast -- Ryanair told them to be less 'stuffy'.

Swede Dreams

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions brought a successful complaint against a 2009 ad by Ikea in which punters were invited to "bring out their rebel" by pulling sickies from work. The slogan, "Be 'Sick' Bring Out Your Rebel", was judged to encourage absenteeism.

The authority agreed with the union that the ads trivialised illness and encouraged "suspicion about the truthfulness of employees and absenteeism due to sickness".

Wonders Never Cease

The sight of Eva Herzigova looming from a billboard in her bra and panties gave many a motorist palpitations in 1994.

The "hello boys" campaign was immediately controversial.

It was claimed that a number of (male) drivers crashed after becoming distracted by the ads. Feminists were appalled -- but WonderBra sales soared.

The campaign was devised by London ad guru Trevor Beattie who would go on to mastermind the equally controversial FCUK re-branding of fashion chain French Connection.

Taking the Crisp

This isn't the first time Hunky Dory parent Largo Foods has been accused of resorting to poor taste in order to flog a few more packets of crisps.

A 2005 campaign featuring lingerie-clad models and the tag "Which one would you throw out of bed for eating Hunky Dorys" was deemed "offensive, exploitative and degrading to women" by the ASAI.

"Some complainants referred to women using public transport at night who might be uncomfortable near the poster at bus stops," said the authority in its annual report.

Other concerns were that men would view women as sex objects.

Gaels Aloud

In the same year Hunky Dory was rapped on the knuckles, the ASAI ruled against a radio ad for Paisean Faisean, the TG4 fashion show. In the ad, a man asks his girlfriend to put on stilettos and a mini-skirt, to which she responds that people will be able to see her underwear.

"Not if you're not wearing any, they won't," jokes her witty boyfriend. Two years later, TG4 was again in trouble with the watchdog, which vetoed a Paisean Faisean ad depicting a teacher wearing suspenders, accompanied by the tag "Girls Dressed By Boys".

What a brew-ha-ha

Harp Lager's famous "Sally O'Brien" television campaign of the early 1980s provoked a nationwide backlash. Reflecting on the things he misses about home, an expatriate engineer is swept back to his local, where his gaze is drawn to a local beauty.

When this seemingly outstanding example of Irish womanhood was revealed to be English actress Vicki Michelle, the nation's anger knew no limits. In a stab at damage limitation, Harp flew her over to Ireland, where she was wheeled onto the Late Late Show to gush about her Irish roots. More bad news followed as the homesick Paddy was also unmasked as -- boo, hiss, fetch the twirly moustache -- an Englishman.

Irish Independent