Brewer roils controversy with gay-marriage billboard

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“Dad’s new husband seems nice. Yeah right.”

That’s the text of a billboard New Zealand-based beer brewer Tui posted in the city of Wellington last week. It’s
part of a nearly 20-year-long advertising campaign that uses the “Yeah right” slogan. Still, this particular billboard, which acknowledges the New Zealand
Parliament’s April 17 vote to legalize same-sex marriage, has sparked a debate that’s gone on for days on the company’s Facebook page.

Quite a few observers took to the page to call the billboard “homophobic” and “disgusting.”

“What’s with the anti-gay signs Tui?” asked one commenter. “They’re creepy and uncool. I used to like your beer but I can find other brands that don’t
offend me and my gay friends.”

After the billboard became national news in the country Sunday,
lots of the company’s fans headed to Facebook to defend the ad.

“The day I’m offended by one of your boards that’s the day I know I’m taking life too seriously! Keep it up!” wrote another commenter.

For its part, Tui has tried to clarify the message of the ad.

“Our intention with the current Tui Yeah Right billboard, ‘Dad’s new husband seems nice,’ was to highlight the common situation or uncertainty experienced
when someone’s parent remarries,” the company’s marketing manager, William Papesch, told the Wellington Dominion Post.

The trouble seems to stem from viewers’ interpreting the billboard as describing a situation in which a dad who was in a heterosexual marriage marries
another man.

“Anything that requires that much explaining is probably a bad idea,” says Robert Holland of Holland Communication Solutions.

Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein crisis management says the billboard controversy was “a totally preventable crisis.” He adds, “Even the tiniest bit of
market research would have predicted a negative reaction by a significant number of people.”

Holland says Tui must have known its billboard would be read in the way many observers are reading it.

“What is most perplexing is why a brand would invite this kind of controversy,” he says. “They had to know the billboard would be perceived negatively by a
large number of people.”

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