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Liquor chain removes divisive ad

AD CAMPAIGN: This billboard in Marion advertising a local liquor store chain caused backlash on social media. Save-On Liquor’s CEO said the billboard hadn’t been approved before it went public.

BY Scott Fleener - ctreport@indy.rr.com

A billboard advertising local liquor chain Save-On Liquor with the phrase “Liquor. Cheaper than therapy. You’re welcome.” stirred some controversy in Marion this week.

The billboard was quickly taken down, but not before many in the community voiced opinions online and in petitions about the billboard’s message. Some, including recovery advocates, said it made light of alcoholism and mental health issues. Others found the slogan funny and thought the company should not have removed it.

According to Save-On Liquor’s CEO David Hartley, the billboard was never actually supposed to go up. 

Hartley said the billboard was a part of an idea session Save-On Liquor had after he and his investment partners bought the business in January. Around 20-30 ad ideas were created “to create buzz” for the company’s new brand. 

The ad that made it on the billboard was one of about eight that were not supposed to be used in the re-brand campaign.

Hartley said he took part of the responsibility for the mistake, which he believes occurred when he asked Burkhart Advertising to create mock-ups of the ad ideas. 

“We want to be funny but not inappropriate,” Hartley said. “But sometimes it can blur that line.”

Shane Beal, a local recovery advocate, posted a response to the billboard on social media and, according to Beal, it “took off from there.”

Beal said that he met with Jay Yeakle, a representative of local Save-On Liquor stores, about taking down the billboard. Beal said he believed the sign was down within 24 hours of that conversation.

“I’m excited that despite that we have different opinions we realized it wasn’t the best for the town,” Beal said.

Hartley said that the decision to remove the billboard was made because it was never supposed to go up, not because of the controversy, which he called “secondary.” The decison to take it down was made before the backlash started, Hartley said.

Yeakle said that despite the controversy Save-On Liquor has a lot of community support, citing the response on social media.

The billboard spawned two petitions on Change.org as well. The first, created by Tiffany Rausch, asked the company to remove the billboard. It has just over 500 signatures.

The second, created by James Smith, is calling for the company to put it back up. That petition had gathered over 100 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

One billboard supporter who signed Smith’s petition said they were tired of “PC culture,” referencing political correctness.

Megan Gilmore, executive director of Lark’s Song and a licensed clinical addictions counselor, said she was conflicted about the billboard because she personally found the message harmful but also believed in the power of choice for individuals.

“Messages like this are harmful because they don’t challenge the status quo,” Gilmore said. “Or (encourage people) to do better rather than continue unhealthy coping mechanisms.”