Brockovich forces NZ firm to drop 'sexist' ad

By Maggie McNaughton

American campaigner Erin Brockovich, famous for her victory over a US power company, has forced a New Zealand retailer to scrap a sexist advertisement after branding it insulting to women.

Brockovich was outraged by a Bond and Bond advertisement that said: "Government says fridges are better younger. Just like women really."

The 47-year-old environmental advocate, whose story inspired the hit movie Erin Brockovich, is fronting a TV advertising campaign for Bond & Bond's sister company Noel Leeming. The firms are both owned by the Noel Leeming Group.

Brockovich, who as a single mother given a job by a law firm exposed a giant Californian company for polluting a residential area's water supply, told the Herald she contacted Noel Leeming Group and expressed her outrage and disappointment.

She described the Bond & Bond advertisement as inappropriate, in poor taste and reflecting poorly on women.

"I called Noel Leeming's parent company, which owns Bond & Bond, and expressed my outrage and my disappointment in them for running such an advertisement. I demanded its retraction and they agreed to do so.

"I don't condone these types of ads, but I do applaud the company for listening, admitting their mistake and making an apology."

Brockovich said Bond & Bond had promised it would not run the ad, or any other that was in poor taste, again.

"For the women and men of New Zealand who wrote to me to bring this situation to my attention, I thank you.

"I hope that this will be a first step of many for one of your country's major retailers to take responsibility and act with integrity towards all people."

Noel Leeming Group chief executive Andrew Dutkiewicz said his company received 23 complaints about the advertisement.

He said it was designed to run only once. "Bonds has a campaign which is irreverent and cheeky and the intent always is to make people laugh, not offend. I think in this case it went one step too far. I can understand why some people were offended so we'll just put that in our book of learning."

Mr Dutkiewicz said the incident had been embarrassing for Noel Leeming Group, but wouldn't damage its relationship with Brockovich.

"We agreed that Erin could say what she wanted and she has come out and told us that in her opinion the ad had gone too far and we've taken that on board and recognised it and agreed with her.

"I think one of the strengths of the campaign is that she will say what she feels and we respect her and will listen to what she has to say. The net result of this is that we will be a better company for it. We will learn from this."

Mr Dutkiewicz said ads for Bond & Bond and Noel Leeming were developed by different teams.

It is the first time Brockovich has starred in a commercial campaign. The activist also said she wanted companies to act with integrity and honour.

"I had been introduced to Noel Leeming and they expressed to me how they aspired to be an outstanding company, including conducting themselves with upstanding corporate values.

"So, I made a ... choice to become involved with the Noel Leeming brand name of stores on an advertising campaign that expressed how a company should conduct themselves within their community."

Brockovich was working as a file clerk in a legal practice when she took on Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating the water supply in Hinkley, California.

In 1996, the corporate giant paid US$333 million in damages to more than 600 residents in a record-breaking settlement that inspired the movie starring Julia Roberts.

Brockovich has more recently been involved in investigating a mining company in Perth.

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