A pizza restaurant in Ohio was forced to take down its billboard after the sign sparked a wave of backlash online.
Jeremy Clemetson, who owns a franchise of the Ohio-based chain, East of Chicago Pizza, put up the sign last Friday, Today reported. The billboard, displayed just outside Clemetson's restaurant in Barberton, read: "Fat people are harder to kidnap."
The restaurant owner told Today that the phrase, which had previously been used in other marketing materials and a separate sign on his storefront, was meant strictly as a joke.
"When I was a kid, people used to say fat people are harder to kidnap," he said. "It was something we said to each other growing up. It was just funny to us."
Clemetson added that he hadn't received any complaints about his tongue-in-cheek advertisements — which in the past have included phrases like, "You will never have abs so order pizza" — until this most recent joke on his billboard. He said has used the same phrase before in a smaller sign near his restaurant and never heard of anyone being offended.
After the full billboard went up, though, customers reportedly began calling East of Chicago Pizza's corporate office with complaints. Cleveland.com even held a Facebook live broadcast underneath the sign on Monday, with some viewers weighing in to share their issues with the "body-shaming" ad.
"Definitely not funny! Body shaming is a real thing! How abt saying skinny ppl are easy to kidnap? With all the human trafficking now how is it funny?" one user commented on the video.
"It's not nice. Shouldn't have been posted," another stated.
Others claimed that the timing was in poor taste, as January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Awareness Month. That perspective convinced Clemetson, who told Today he "totally gets why people would be offended," to take the sign down.
"I never even thought about it in that way, kidnapping is not a joke — we are taking it down," he said. "But there are still going to be more funny signs up here and more funny signs around the community, and if anyone has any comments, my door is always open."
Many social media users seemed to agree with Clemetson's initial stance as well, saying that the sign was an obvious joke and that others were being overly sensitive.
"It’s hilarious honestly. Stop acting like being fat isn’t common yet preventable. Some people like being fat," one person wrote on Cleveland.com's Facebook video.
"I think a lot of people are going to be offended by it, but I don't think it's a big deal," Emma Bair, a local resident, told WITI-TV. "It's advertising."