Rugby crucifixion poster fury
Sep 18 2002
Tomos Livingstone, The Western Mail
A CONTROVERSIAL poster depicting a crucified Welsh rugby player was unveiled yesterday to howls of criticism from all corners.
The poster, featuring the image and a website address - www.freesexandchocolate.com - is an advertisement for the Cardiff design company Escape...to Design Ltd.
The 18sq m poster will be on dis-play for the next two weeks just yards from the National Assembly in Cardiff. It is intended to spark a debate on the nature of advertising, the company claimed last night.
But church leaders questioned whether Escape... would have been as willing to use blasphemous images from Islam, Hinduism or the Holocaust.
Passers-by who rushed to log on to the website would perhaps be a little dismayed to find it just led to the homepage of the company - which specialises in corporate branding, advertising and web design.
But, as the website says, "You're here now and that's what counts."
Rugby great Gareth Edwards also voiced misgivings about the poster. "It is in bad taste," he said.
"People may think it's a means to an end but there are better ways of getting attention than that."
Plaid Cymru's shadow culture minister Owen John Thomas said the advert smacked of desperation. "I think it is in bad taste," he said. "I suppose they must feel that if they did it in a more tasteful manner people would not notice.
"I would imagine that a lot of people that would be interested in advertising would be put off by that rather than encouraged."
Tory AM Glyn Davies said he had not been offended when the controversial Opium poster featuring a naked Sophie Dahl appeared outside the Assembly, but believed this advert should be taken down.
He said, "This is in very poor taste and I'm sure most Assembly Members would think so. I do not like it when they start to bring the cross into it - when you start to bring in icons that are so important to people it does cause offence."
Tory AM Alun Cairns saw through the publicity stunt, saying, "It shows faith that Welsh rugby can be saved, but I can understand why some people would be bothered by it."
A spokesman for Cardiff Council said the poster was a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority, and any complaints would be forwarded to them.
A spokesman for the Welsh Rugby Union said they did not want to comment on what they regarded as a piece of cheap publicity.
Escape...to Design's director Pete Kazimierz Surma said, "We're in the business of communication, that means words and images. We wanted to come up with an image that would grab people's attention.
"Industry research shows that the most potent words in advertising are `free', `sex' and `chocolate'.
"What we've done in our campaign is to couple these with an image that is bound to capture the attention of a Welsh audience."
It is not the first time rugby images have caused controversy. In 1998 the Welsh Baptist Union criticised a WRU-produced poster featuring then-Welsh rugby coach Graham Henry with his team and the words "Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer." Other organisations, such as Benetton, Barnardo's and RSPCA have come in for criticism for their hard-hitting ad campaigns.
Mr Surma said the image would be "a good one for debate".
He pointed out that although the modern perception of the crucifixion was linked to Christian imagery, it was used as a punishment in pagan times.
He also argued that far stronger images invaded our lives every day through television and newspapers.
"We've obviously canvassed a number of our colleagues for their reaction, and it has been mixed," he said. "They believe it is a powerful image and it may do us some good."
But the Rev Chris Webb, who works as a renewal director for the Church in Wales, said, "I wonder how willing they would have been to exploit an image for Islam or Buddhism, or even the Holocaust."
The crucifixion was an image that had been "used and abused throughout the centuries", he said.
"Personally I would wonder if they realise how offensive it can be to exploit an image that is an important one in people's lives."
Mr Surma said the company was respectful of all religions.
"We could have chosen anything," he said. "We have total respect for other religions. "We wanted to create a debate and if we do that we're very happy."
Robert Lloyd Griffiths, marketing manager at Cardiff advertising agency Golley Slater, said short-term shocks can be a way for a small company to gather maximum publicity.
"People will try anything they can to have it withdrawn," he said. "It may be up for a short while then they've made their mark."
He said that although there was a trend towards shocking adverts, original, creative adverts stood head and shoulders above those that set out to be deliberately shocking.