January 30th, 2020 – It was an interesting social media day for one pizza shop in Barberton, Ohio. In the morning they were posting about their 28 inch colossal pizza, and by the afternoon they had to share a news story about a billboard they posted that many people considered to make light of human trafficking.
“Fat people are harder to kidnap,” the copy read on a billboard showing off two of the shop’s pies. Owner Jeremy Clemetson said the sign was intended to be playful (a running theme for the sign outside the restaurant) and never meant to be offensive.
“I have seven kids of my own so once the human trafficking aspect came up, I took it down,” Clemetson told CNN.
The timing of the marketing decision made the incident all the more controversial. The “kidnapping” billboard was posted in January, which is national human trafficking awareness month. As of this posting, it has been taken down.
Clemetson said he started putting up lighthearted billboards six months ago to help heat up business. And the company has long promoted their cheeky signs outside the restaurant. East of Chicago’s Facebook page has plenty of photos showing off the playful creations such as “R SUBS R 12 INCHES EVEN IF IT’S COLD,” “FREE BOX WITH EVERY PIZZA,” and “VOTED NUMBER ONE BY SOME GUY.”
They’ve even used the signs as a way to dig at employees.
This time around, the advertising reception wasn’t all laughs. Several people shared their thoughts with a local CNN affiliate noting the poor taste.
“You shouldn’t make a joke about kidnapping regardless of what it is,” one person told CNN affiliate WOIO. “I just think that was poor taste, very poor taste, very offensive,” another commented.
Over on Facebook, however, most people in the community found the billboard funny and asked the owner to put the sign back up.
“We just set out to be funny but this billboard went national,” East of Chicago Pizza’s post began. “It must of been a slow news day. Let me know your thoughts. I appreciate your business and never set out for this to be offensive to anyone.”
“I love your signs and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the kidnapping sign,” one user wrote. “It was funny and I’ve seen that saying on Facebook several times in memes. Keep up the good work!”
“Hilarious, I have a magnet on my fridge that says the same thing,” another person posted. “Hope this has brought you more business!”
Clemetson hasn’t put up another billboard since the story broke nationwide but says he’ll weigh the interpretation of copy a little longer in the future.