Hell Pizza love a bit of advertising-related controversy. And it created some more after releasing a couple of mobile billboards headlined ‘greed’ that featured head and shoulders photos of the founders of Hanover Finance, Mark Hotchin and Eric Watson.
The mobile billboards were driven around Auckland and the one featuring Hotchin’s mug was parked outside his new $30 million house on Paritai drive, which is currently under construction.
Hanover finance was contemplating legal action against Hell yesterday and this morning there was a knock at the door with a letter from Chapman Tripp asking for an injunction. Cease and desist by 12pm, the letter said. Or else.
Hell Pizza’s communications manager Matt Blomfield said he would take the billboards down if Hotchin agreed to a public debate on greed.
But Hell Pizza’s Warren Powell says the company will probably flaunt the greed theme for the next 24 hours or so and is likely to bow to the demands. And while he thinks Hell would be victorious if it came to a legal battle, he says it’s not worth the effort because the job of creating discussion around the behaviour of Hanover finance’s founders (and engaging in some cheeky, timely marketing) is done.
“We’d obviously win hands-down if it went to court,” he says, “but we’d waste a lot of time and money pursuing it.”
And he said in an email: “We are thinking we may allow them to seek the injunction. What a waste of time for them. One would have thought they had other worries than a pizza company, like paying people. Pity they still do not know how to use shareholders’ money,” he says.
Hotchin displayed glimmers of good sportsmanship yesterday when he told Stuff.co.nz: “I wouldn’t have minded but I have tried their pizzas and I thought they were rubbish – even the kids wouldn’t eat them. I prefer Pizza Hut.”
And Powell says legal action for Hotchin’s disparaging remarks may be the only practical response.
“We should’ve taken him to court for that. Honestly, no-one prefers Pizza Hut,” he says.
Blomfield says the management team came up with the idea to link their Greed pizza with Hanover Finance over lunch one day and, in typical Hell pizza style, decided to take a punt. It initially enlisted the services of Oggi to put up two billboards, but Oggi required the three directors to provide personal indemnity. Oggi’s managing director Gordon Frykberg says the three directors agreed but then pulled out at the last minute.
When defamation is a possibility, he says it’s often the media company that is targeted, so it’s not in the company’s financial interests to risk significant legal expenses. It’s a lose-lose situation if it ends up in court (he’s got some experience in the matter after Mark Cooper agreed to personal indemnity and took on Hotchin and Watson), which is why the company requires indemnity.