A brainstorming session about advertising for a Mexican restaurant in Indiana “went the wrong direction,” the restaurant’s vice president of sales and marketing acknowledges.
The Hacienda Mexican Restaurant posted several billboards that depicted a red margarita over a neutral background. The text read, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid.” Next to the margarita glass was a banner that read, “To Die For!”
The sign sparked complaints from people who thought joking about a cult’s mass suicide wasn’t all that funny.
They’re angry about the presumed reference to the People’s Temple Massacre in Jonestown, Guyana, in late 1978, in which more than 900 people were led by Jim Jones to drink cyanide-laced punch.
After getting complaints about the signs, the restaurant decided to take them down.
It’s not a campaign I would have ever even considered, but it does lead to an interesting question: when is a joke about a real event not funny?
Look at the light night comics. They get laughs joking about nearly everything.
Johnny Carson once told an interviewer that he used to make fun of one person in particular until he found out that person was an alcoholic. At that moment, the jokes stopped.
The easy answer is that any time death is involved, that subject matter is automatically off-limits. But David Letterman ran a Top Ten List about the Unabomber back in 1996.
The number of deaths in this case makes the Guyana tragedy an obvious “no-no.” At least, it does to me. But not to everyone.
So sometimes, a joke gets through that just isn’t funny, because someone thought it would be, and someone else thought it wasn’t at all.
But the restaurant is doing the right thing in pulling the offending billboards. I don’t happen to believe that any publicity is good publicity. They apparently don’t, either, and that is, pardon the expression, a good sign.