Is it time to forgive owner of Texas sign company for decal of hog-tied woman?

September 9, 2013

Should we forgive Brad Kolb?

That’s the question for those who’ve expressed outrage over a Texas sign company’s too-realistic truck decal of a pretty blonde woman with her hands and feet bound, creating the optical illusion that she is lying in the bed of the truck. Imagine seeing this as you’re driving down the road.

Hornet Signs has removed the tailgate with its controversial decal. (Photo courtesy of Hornet Signs)
Hornet Signs has removed the tailgate with its controversial decal. (Photo courtesy of Hornet Signs)

Now Hornet Signs owner Brad Kolb of Waco, Texas, responding to the backlash against the decal that he says was a marketing experiment, is trying to increase awareness of violence against women as well as raise money for the cause.

“We wanted to see how realistic we could make the wraps,” he said in an interview.  A company employee willingly posed for the photograph and the decal wrap was placed on another employee’s pickup to drive around town.

“We wanted to showcase what we can do, but it wasn’t the best way,” he admitted.

At no time was the wrap available for sale, Kolb stressed. Nor were the other two of a sniper and a bloodied zombie (both of which I find disturbing as well — what’s wrong with a peaceful scene of the mountains or beach?) also done to showcase the company’s work.

Photos of all three went up on Facebook and Twitter in mid-August; it took a few weeks for the backlash of anger and disgust to build as the photo went viral on social media.

I was shocked when I saw the image on Facebook over the weekend, and it didn’t help that the photo appeared in my newsfeed just above a status update from Missey Smith, the mother of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith, who was killed after she was abducted from the parking lot of an Overland Park, Kan. shopping center in 2007. Missey Smith reported that cell phone signals had helped locate a young Kansas City woman allegedly kidnapped at gunpoint by a neighbor.

Yes, violence against women is a problem. George Zimmerman is making headlines again, this time for allegedly pulling a gun on his wife and threatening her . Ariel Castro was found hanging in his prison cell last week after just a month into his life sentence for kidnapping three young Cleveland women from 2002 to 2004.

Earlier this month, two boys in Dallas followed a car while staying on the line with 911 operators. One of the boys admitted they were checking out the woman in the backseat because she was “attractive,” but when she mouthed, “Help me,” the teens became concerned and called authorities. The boys followed the car for miles until police pulled over the vehicle and discovered the woman had been allegedly abducted.

I’m surprised and disappointed that Kolb didn’t realize this. He admitted the public’s reaction surprised him and said he had no idea how pervasive abuse, domestic violence and rape were. He also said he was “aggravated” that comments on social media did not give statistics, so he went to Google himself. “Three million children witness domestic violence,” a year, he said.

He told me he was sorry and he’s apologized publicly as well. He claimed he’s not expressing regret for the hatred from the public or possible ramifications against business, but for the hurt he may have caused victims of violence. “Survivors (of violence) told me seeing that (decal) can take them right back to the moment, and that breaks my heart,” he said. “I hate to hear that.”

He’s given a donation (he wouldn’t tell me how much) to the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children in Waco and has posted links on his company’s web site to the center and other organizations for victims of rape and domestic violence.

“We will use every penny wisely to help victims of crime in our community,” the advocacy center’s executive director, Amy Perkins, told me. The center works with women and children in a six-county area.

Although she’s grateful for all donations and appreciates the increased awareness, she said the center is not affiliated with nor has it partnered with Hornet Signs. “We do not support or condone such a marketing tactic,” Perkins said. “Violence and degradation against any person is not okay.” She wished the original decal had included a tagline such as, “This is not okay.”

Kolb has either had a change of heart or is covering his rear when it comes to his original stance regarding the decal. “Take the outrage and turn it into positive solutions,” he wrote on the blog added to the company’s Web site this weekend.

A poll asks what to do with the decal — whether to leave it on, rip it off or sell it on eBay (for the record, the tailgate with the offending wrap has been removed from the pickup so you won’t see it in traffic) with proceeds going to charity. Another question, referring to “How far is too far? An experiment in marketing,” asks this: “Which will receive more publicity — controversy or compassion?”

Kolb is trying putting a positive spin on a negative situation. Is he profiting from it? Possibly. He did say business had increased after the debut of the wraps in mid-August. (Vehicle wraps are just part of his business, he said, which does all kinds of signage.)

But maybe, just maybe, this Texan has learned a valuable lesson. Will those commenting on social media take a break from their hate and outrage against Kolb and, instead, focus their efforts on helping the victims of violence against women?

Victims of sexual assault may contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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Diana Reese · September 9, 2013