OTTAWA (CUP) — Days after walls of water devastated beachfront communities in Thailand, one of Canada’s nationwide electronics retailers was still promoting an idyllic holiday to the ravaged Southeast Asian country.
People buying items at RadioShack the week following the Dec. 26 tsunami found the following message on their receipts: “From marble temples to stunning sunsets, RadioShack is your ticket to 10 days in Thailand! Buy $20 in batteries for your chance to win a trip of a lifetime!”
On Jan. 1, the message was pulled from the receipts and the contest was modified to include South Africa, Australia or a European cruise as options. But winners can still choose to go to the devastated region.
“Thailand is still an option, if they want to go,” said Lyndsay Walter, vice-president of advertising for RadioShack Canada, in a phone interview from the corporation’s head office in Barrie, Ont.
Walter said the company was not concerned the message on the receipt was inappropriate, despite an estimated 150 missing Canadians and an emotional outpouring across the country in the week following the disaster in southern Asia and eastern Africa.
Michael Mulvey, a marketing professor at the University of Ottawa, said the chance of someone being offended by the message on the RadioShack receipt was small. But he also cautioned advertising campaigns must be wary of what is going on in the world.
“There is some sensitivity here that has to be exercised,” Mulvey said. “There’s always the potential that someone could be upset.”
Mulvey compared the untimely RadioShack promotion to the way a beer ad has the potential to affect an alcoholic negatively.
Mulvey said RadioShack’s response to modify the destinations in the contest was the proper course of action.
“The solution seems pretty reasonable,” he said. “You’re not short-changing consumers. It is the responsible thing from a consumer standpoint to continue having the reward program and incentive there.”
Mulvey also said it is not unusual for a Canada-wide retailer like RadioShack to take seven days to remove the message from its receipts, especially during a retail crunch time like Boxing Week.
“I’m impressed they even got it done in that time,” Mulvey said.
RadioShack is not the first company to have a promotion interrupted by a disaster. When the Columbia space shuttle exploded over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, the Associated Press reported the Hewlett-Packard Co. was engaged in an advertising campaign depicting the technology giant’s ability to get astronauts home safe.
Hewlett-Packard tried to pull the campaign after the accident, which killed Columbia’s seven-person crew, but one ad ended up running on a CNN broadcast about the crash.
But Mulvey said untimely ad campaigns that conflict with news content don’t generally have much effect on the audience they reach.
“I think either most people are so interested in the news that they are not going to pay attention to the ad or they’d understand the irony,” Mulvey said. “Although, you always get a few people who take things very literally.”
The three winners of the RadioShack contest will be announced Jan. 31.