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SLC billboard aims to push envelope, buttons

Published November 2, 2013 9:52 am

Experts say the guerilla-style ad campaign for "snoring solution" is a product of social media.
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A California company wants you to know that its publicity stunt has offended people in Los Angeles and that it will be here soon.

Snore Stop, a "snoring solution" throat spray manufacturer, is deliberately polarizing potential buyers with a Sunset Boulevard billboard that shows a purported American serviceman embracing a Muslim woman who is wearing a burqa and a wedding ring. That and other images in the guerilla marketing campaign bear the slogan, "Keeping you together."

The company boasts that it aims to spread a message of tolerance, but seemingly at odds with that intent is a news release that draws attention to bigoted responses to the image — branded with the hash tag #betogether.

For instance: "For some people it's just too soon. The tragedy of 9/11 is still so fresh in people's minds and now we're being told we have to accept the enemy being a part of our lives and culture," and, "I guess she's supposed to be one of them peace-loving ones?"

So, the campaign may not win a Nobel Prize. But Chris Thomas, owner of the Salt Lake City-based Intrepid ad agency, said he considers the release innovative.

"They were very transparent in saying, 'We're trying to create conflict,' " Thomas says. It's "a really good example of the integration of advertising, social media and public relations. They've done it in a very bold way."

Snore Stop spokeswoman Melody Devemark said the small company employs between 12 and 16 people at its headquarters in Camarillo, Calif., and it has to find a way to spread the word broadly on a shoestring budget.

In 2005, it made news by bidding $37,375 to advertise on the forehead of a 20-year-old college student. This time, Snore Stop's in-house marketing teamed with Pop Culture founder Darren Shuster to conceive of a campaign that would feature nontraditional couples who are "kept together" by Snore Stop.

If Shuster's name sounds familiar, it's because he's the brains behind an attempt to rename the town of Bluff, Utah, after London-based PokerShare.com in 2005, and later to rename Salt Lake City's Sugar House neighborhood after dating website SugarDaddie.com in February.

The Salt Lake billboard — to be installed at an undisclosed location by an undisclosed company — is one of 20 planned nationwide. Deve­mark said the original idea was to use more than one image, but they may stick with the L.A. design. Thomas says he can't speak specifically about Snore Stop but that he often cautions clients that the Salt Lake market is very different from the rest of the country.

Love Communications Vice President John Youngren can't imagine Love doing a similarly divisive campaign, but "if this sort of family-owned business in California has generated this kind of buzz, you could argue full-out they have achieved their goal. That's the kind of thing every advertiser strives for, to become part of the daily conversation."

Prior to social media, Youngren said, an edgy billboard might have resulted in a few letters or phone calls. Now it compels media outlets like the Tribune to address the controversy it has drummed up.

The release highlights a Facebook post from a FOX affiliate in Indianapolis, and comments fall into three general categories: 1) Interracial couples are OK, 2) Interracial couples aren't OK, and 3) The ad just doesn't really make sense.

Thomas said that while it's gutsy, and while it could well have the reach of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, the real test will be if people buy the product.

mpiper@sltrib.comTwitter: @matthew_piper