Title: Faggs complaints rejected Credit: Chris Banks Features Tuesday 4th November 2003 - 12:00pm1067900400 Article: 122 Rights
The last time we spoke about Faggs Coffee, it was a conversation with Fresh Foods marketing manager James Ford who assured us that their recent advertising campaign was not intended to be offensive. Indeed, they said they had no idea people would take the ads in a homosexual way, a defence the company has now successfully taken to the Advertising Standards Authority, who has ruled that the advertisements were "produced with a due sense of social responsibility" and that "taking into account generally prevailing community standards...could not be said to cause either serious or widespread offence..." Faggs argued that the word "fag" has many meanings, and that "Ponsonby" was not a gay reference, but a nod to the pretentious "cafe capital of NZ". "The great straight coffee" was meant likewise - straight being the opposite of pretentious, rather than gay. Faggs also argued that by code definition, "widespread offence" had not been caused, as there had been "considerable discussion" on TV, radio, internet and the press which had come to a "general consensus" of a positive reaction. Examples of this "positive" media coverage, including's "Straight Faggs" article, were submitted to back this up. Yet since the Authority's decision was released on October 21 (there has been a media embargo on releasing information on it until now), evidence has emerged to suggest that, despite their protestations to the contrary, Faggs were well aware of the gay connotations to their name, and certainly did have this in mind when preparing their new campaign. Marketing manager James Ford admits that market research had been carried out, prior to his time at the company, which had uncovered some negative public reaction to the name "Faggs" because of its gay meaning. He says that the finished campaign was not about sexuality at all, but in the planning stages a number of ideas were mooted and then dropped because they were deemed to be blatantly offensive. "I was rung by the advertising company, and was told they were looking for New Zealanders who were recognisable and earthy for a commercial for Faggs Coffee," says Kerre Woodham, who appears in some of the ads. "Earthy's my word not theirs but the general tenor was someone who would appeal to Taranaki farmers and Dipton shepherds...obviously I was aware of the double entendre in the word 'fag'." Gary McCormick, who appears on the billboards, is an iconic "Kiwi bloke". Faggs say that they were trying to give the coffee a personality by attaching Gary and Kerre to it - and that personality is "the good honest coffee with a sense of humour". They say the ads are for "everyone". But one of the golden rules of advertising is to define your target market, and it would seem that the primary audience was intended to be provincial types, the same types who usually wouldn't take kindly to fags, if you'll pardon the pun. Let's take a look at those ads again. When you think "Ponsonby", is pretentious the first thing that comes to mind? "No, I would think that more of Remuera," says Richard James, president of GABA (Gay Auckland Business Association). "Do you really believe that?" says Neville Creighton of Auckland's Gayline, in reference to the Ponsonby excuse. "Anything they say that they had no idea is bullshit - they knew exactly what they were doing." Are gay men just too sensitive? "The first reaction I had was from a friend (male, gay) who saw it in a magazine and said he thought it was funny," says Kerre Woodham. "The second was from another friend (female, straight), who thought it was a bit on the nose. I didn't think of the possibly offensive overtones, and I guess that's the arrogance of a middle class white straight woman who's never (to her knowledge) been victimised." And how about "the great straight coffee"? That means ordinary, straight-up-and-down, doesn't it? "That's debatable," argues Richard James. "What's straight about coffee? They don't say 'straight up and down' coffee." "I think the connotation was supposed to be that Faggs was a coffee for straight up New Zild coffee drinkers in provincial towns as opposed to flashy city sophisticates who order decaff, trim, soy lattes or goats milk cappuccinos," muses Kerre Woodham. "I think that was why Gary and I were chosen to appear in the ad." "We find the ads very offensive," says Neville Creighton. "Many of our volunteers here have said they'll never buy Faggs coffee again. It was in very bad taste, bordering on ridicule. Gary McCormick's plummeted right to the bottom of my estimation." But Christchurch-based Gary says he had no idea either... "I thought the reference to Ponsonby was a reference to flashy complicated coffees, the latte society etc, most of which I have never tasted and don't know what they are," he told "I was as surprised as the next person (whoever the next person may be) that there has been a bit of a fuss in Auckland." Gary didn't have anything to say on the subject of double entendres or how he was approached originally by the ad agency. "I'm very sorry if the ad has offended people - maybe I'm being woefully naive but I didn't think of it as offensive," says Kerre Woodham. "I thought you had a good point in the editorial with Coons Candies featuring Leighton Smith, not as Otara as it sounds. But Gary and I were chosen not because we are homophobes but because we are not perceived as city folk or Ponsonby types." What is a Ponsonby type, though? And what's in a name? Apparently, according to the ads, "Faggs" suggests Ponsonby. As part of its defence, the company has pointed out the strong Wellington origins and heritage of Faggs coffee. Kerre Woodham also said she knew of Faggs coffee because she was a Wellington girl. Taking this into account, I don't see how anyone could connect Faggs coffee and Ponsonby unless they were being a smartarse. "We thought we'd chosen a route that could avoid any of this," James Ford says now. "I can't deny that it is there. There's nothing we can do to change the brand name, but we're very conscious of ways it can be interpreted - that's one positive thing to have come out of this -and in future we'll make sure we focus very much on the product and its history." The current campaign has another nine months to run. Suggestions that a gay personality could be included in future ads has been rejected on the grounds that it would explicitly make the ads sexuality-based, and that there is a danger of "rubbing salt in the wound". However, Mr Ford continues to express confusion as to why an advertiser would want to offend anyone. The answer to this can be found within Faggs own defence to the Advertising Standards Authority: "Whilst it is unfortunate that seven individuals appear to have taken offence to the point of writing to you expressing their concerns, we feel this is a small number in comparison with the many thousands who have viewed the would therefore be hard to argue that offence has been serious or widespread..." In other words, when one weighs up the size of the audience who will potentially be offended against the size of the audience to be captured, it's just a matter of simple arithmetic - and working out just how close one can sail to the edge of the codes of practice. Chris Banks - 4th November 2003    
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