By Ashley Davis
Asheville, N.C.--When Asheville, North Carolina jewelry store Spicer Greene Jewelers posted a billboard last week with the phrase “Sometimes, it’s ok to throw rocks at girls…” surrounded by images of diamonds and colored gemstones, they had no idea it would generate so much publicity.

“The intent was to be reminiscent of a childhood teaching, that it’s not OK to throw rocks at anybody, but if you're going to we’d rather have it be one from us,” said co-owner Eva-Michelle Spicer.

Spicer said that the ad was a play on words and that any literal violent connotation, “was not its intent. We don’t condone violence of any kind of toward anyone.”

The billboard swiftly met outrage online, leading the store to issue an apology on their Facebook page last Thursday that stated: “To whom we have offended with our recent billboard, please accept our apologies … We are humble enough to realize when we make a mistake.”

Sunday afternoon, a small group of people protested outside of the store.

Spicer Greene was aware of the forthcoming protest and donated 10 percent of sales from the preceding Thursday through Sunday, the day of the protest, to Helpmate, a local domestic violence agency, and Our Voice, a rape crisis services organization.

Spicer said that they have worked with these organizations, and other community organizations, prior to the controversy. “We've been supporters of Helpmate and Our Voice for many years,” she said.

Despite the apology and subsequent donations, by this week, the ad had gained so much traction on various social media forums that the story was picked up nationally by news outlets like Time, CNN and The Washington Post.

“I think that (the negative reaction) was started by a small group of very loud people who wanted to get attention focused on the billboard. Then Chelsea Clinton tweeted about it and it was a slow day in news,” Spicer said.

Marketing and public relations experts interviewed by National Jeweler about the billboard controversy said the old adage “There is no such thing as bad publicity” doesn’t necessarily apply in this case.

“Good copywriting is worth the money one has to pay,” said Andrea Hansen, founder and president of Luxe Intelligence, a luxury jewelry brand consultancy.

“This could have easily been averted if only they had said, ‘The only time when it’s OK to throw rocks at girls…’ It’s still cheeky, it’s still a play on words, and it’s socially sensitive at the same time.”

Though personally Hansen said that her first reaction was, “Do we have to make a big deal of everything these days?” she noted the importance of understanding one’s core audience.

“Attitudes are changing, consumer behavior is changing very fast and while brands must be authentic, and react in real time to issues like this, often the insider perspective is too clouded. Ask an outsider to validate your findings, opinions and plans,” she advised.

Meghan Folsom, co-founder and director of public relations at accessories showroom Mega Mega Projects, agreed that Spicer Greene Jewelers misjudged their audience.

“Even though I find this ad inappropriate and offensive, if (Spicer Greene) were to use in it private email marketing directed specifically towards their adult customer base, it would not be causing the same social uproar,” she said, in reference to the criticism leveled at Spicer Greene for the fact that children would see the ad and not necessarily understand the context.

Folsom said that the ad has offended people in far-reaching ways, showing a disconnect with contemporary consumer values.

“Beyond the implications of violence towards women, I find the sexist undertones of this ad to be demeaning on many levels. Self-purchasing women make up a huge part of the jewelry business in today’s market,” Folsom said. “Not only is this store tacitly making light of domestic violence, but they are also implying that women need to have jewelry purchased for them by men.”

The silver lining of the controversy for Spicer has been the support she’s received in the jewelry industry, as well as from the public.

Spicer explained to National Jeweler that the reactions to the campaign had actually been mainly positive.

“Overwhelmingly, people have loved the billboard,” she said. “About 3 percent (of reactions) have been negative.”

“I’d really like to thank the industry. It’s been amazing. The Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group really rallied around us and supported us and we’re blessed to be in an industry with such caring people,” she said.

When asked if it plans to take down the billboard, Spicer said that the store intends to move up its summer marketing campaign to replace the current ad, but that the timing of that is up to the company that owns the billboards and runs its advertising services.

Hansen told National Jeweler that donating funds to organizations that combat domestic violence was the right move for Spicer Greene Jewelers to make, no matter their intention with the ad.

“Perception is reality,” she concluded. “In the arena of public opinion, that’s the only truth that matters.”

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.