Harvey Norman's radio ad for its Christmas family portraits special first aired on Sydney's Nova 969 station on Saturday with the question: "Do you want to give Santa a lap dance?"
The ads were pulled four hours after feminist author Melinda Tankard Reistwrote a series of tweets criticising the radio promotions.
"Go #HarveyNorman Go! to hell! #boycottHarveyNorman #collectiveshout," Ms Tankard Reist tweeted.
"Think it difficult to work 'Santa', 'lap dance' and 'family portrait' into a single ad jingle? Wasn't for #Harveynorman!"
A number of Ms Tankard Reist's 1329 followers responded, with many promising to boycott Harvey Norman on their Twitter accounts.
CbnGal said: "that's Harvey Norman off shopping list. Why do so many of our major retailers think this sort of advertising is okay?"
Within four hours Harvey Norman's head of social media, Gary Wheelhouse, had responded to her on the company's official Twitter account and contacted the advertising department which arranged for the ad to be taken off the air "effective immediately."
The ad has now been changed to remove the "lap dance" reference.
Mr Wheelhouse, who had never heard the ad, said he considered the nature of the tweet complaints and the high profile of Ms Tankard Reist before he decided to act on them.
"I looked at [her reputation as a well-known activist] obviously because you've got to look at the weight of the conversation going on and it’s very simple: we didn’t want to offend anybody," Mr Wheelhouse, a 20-year veteran of Harvey Norman, said.
Canberra-based Ms Tankard Reist, who founded the 'Collective shout' online campaign to boycott businesses with sexualised marketing campaigns, has also never heard the ad, but found out about it from a friend’s Facebook status.
She said the ad was offensive because it objectified the women it was directed at and implied they would happily perform sexual favours for Santa Claus.
"We're seeing sexualised messaging at every level of popular culture – even an ad about family photos for children has to involve sexual connotations, it's a combination that’s all wrong."
Ms Tankard Reist was surprised but impressed that "thinking out loud" on Twitter on a lazy Sunday afternoon had triggered such prompt action.
"I know it [Twitter] has its critics but if I'd written a letter to the head office, I might've gotten a response a month later. I've never seen a corporation act so quickly," she said.
"What I hope is that corporations particularly those that ignore us now realise there is a benefit to responding to customer complaints because if we work with them we can minimise the damage," she said.
Mr Wheelhouse said that while consumers have always held the balance of power against major companies, Twitter now provided them a different medium in which to use it.
"Twenty years ago people would be talking about this at the pub but the great thing now is that we know [what they’re saying about the business], we get that feedback and we want that feedback," he said.
Mr Wheelhouse said his swift response was not out of the ordinary for a Sunday afternoon because he is required to monitor tweets beyond normal working hours.
"When I see issues I try to respond, regardless of whether we're talking to customers who need service or help with stores or people who want to know what hours we're working, we're the conduit for doing that and a lot of time customers think of us [Harvey Norman's Twitter account] like a 1800 number to customers," he said.
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