Academic journal article Journal of Critical Incidents

Drinks to Die For

Academic journal article Journal of Critical Incidents

Drinks to Die For

Article excerpt

Hacienda, a privately held Mexican Restaurant in South Bend, Indiana, often employed clever advertising themes to attract attention and to convey a fun spirit. But the company's February 2011 billboard campaign set off a flurry of angry customer reactions that left Hacienda with a public relations nightmare.

Hacienda

Hacienda Mexican Restaurant in South Bend Indiana was founded in 1997. By 2011, their estimated sales were $20-50 million annually (Manta, 2011). When Hacienda Mexican Restaurant placed ads proclaiming "We're like a cult with better Kool-Aid", their objective was to remind current customers of their special relationship with Hacienda and to suggest to noncustomers that they too could become one of the Hacienda family. (See the exhibit below for an example of the billboard.) The ads also included the phrase "To die for", referencing its drinks. The ad was an obvious reference to a tragic event involving the People's Temple, a cult group that had originated in their state of Indiana. The ads referenced the cult's horrific end - a mass suicide/murder.

The People's Temple

Jim Jones began preaching in 1953 in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he later became an ordained minister within the Disciples of Christ denomination. Skillful in persuasion, Jones induced likeminded people to follow him and his teachings with fervency.

While formally claiming an objective of fighting racism in the United States, Jones moved his group to California in 1971 and renamed it the People's Temple. Headquartered in San Francisco, the People's Temple grew to over a dozen locations in California by the mid-1970s. Jones had always exalted the virtues of communism. Over time, Jones changed the focus of his Temple sermons from the God of the Bible to a more political God--socialism and communism (Pendell, 2008).

Facing harsh criticism for his religious and political ideology, he relocated his cult group to British Guyana (located on the northeastern coast of South America) in 1977 (Noblett, 2011). It was in Guyana in 1978, that he instructed his followers to murder US Congressman Leo Ryan and his companions as they were leaving Jonestown after having investigated the cult. Ryan became the first and only US Congressman assassinated in the line of duty (Brazil, 1999). That same day, Jones then instructed his followers to drink grape flavored Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. The mass suicide claimed nearly 1000 lives, including Jones (Martinez, 2011).

The tragedy in which so many people followed their revered leader into death still haunted people--and reminded them how easily leaders could sway mass beliefs. Jones' leadership had been likened to Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler, who each also swayed masses to follow a dangerous cause ending in death.

Hacienda's customer profiles demonstrated that its patrons knew what they wanted when choosing a restaurant, and Hacienda met their needs well. So much so, that Hacienda's brand was enjoying an almost cult-like following.

Hacienda Marketing

Seeking to play off this cult-like loyalty, the ads were intended to acknowledge that Hacienda customers were special, even unique, when it came to the food and drinks. …

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