Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Butting in on the Burger King-SpongeBob ad campaign debate

In case you missed it, Burger King and SpongeBob have stirred up a little controversy over their latest co-branded TV commercial promoting the 99-cent Kids Meals (and square butts, apparently.) Before I tell you what I think, I'll get you up to speed on what everyone else thinks:

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is issuing a "Spongebob and Sexualization Don't Mix" campaign to remove the ads. "It’s bad enough when companies use a beloved media character like SpongeBob to promote junk food to children, but it’s utterly reprehensible when that character simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women,” said CCFC director Dr. Susan Linn, a psychologist at the Judge Baker Children's Center.

According to the Washington Post, Burger King and Nickelodeon have issued the following statements:

"The 99-cent BK Kids Meal is a value-based offer aimed at adults and requires an adult BK Value Meal purchase. This value offering enables the entire family to enjoy an affordable quality meal. As with all Burger King adult advertising campaigns, the SpongeBob commercial
featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot's famous song airs only during shows targeting adult audiences, and with the King and a popular '90s rapper as the headliners, is meant to appeal to the adults who take their families to Burger King restaurants for good food and entertainment. This commercial is intended to show that even adults can have fun, laugh and be silly with entertainment genres -- such as rap and pop culture icons -- that have become part of everyday life. We also developed a second, completely different SpongeBob advertising campaign for kids, which is currently airing on kid-targeted programming."

Nickelodeon issued a similar statement:

"The Burger King ad is intended to be an adult-targeted and humorous take on the SpongeBob character's iconic "square" pants set to a famous pop song from the '90s. It is running on adult-targeted networks. This year marks SpongeBob SquarePants' landmark 10th anniversary, and with a monthly adult viewership of 45 million people above the age of 18, the intention was to offer a funny and playful take on the character for that audience."

Okay... so what do we have here? An adult targeted ad that is promoting what, exactly-- kids meals? Square butts? A really old (albeit catchy) Sir Mix A Lot song? As a feminist I kind of get the CCFC's point about the "objectified, sexualized" images of women, but fail to see how the butt shaking damages kids in any way, at least no more than say, Madagascar's "I like to Move it Move It." And then we have the canned BK/Nickelodeon response about the adult targeting. Which would make sense if... they weren't using the kid-targeted Kids Meal and the popular kids brand SpongeBob as the major themes of the ad. Never mind that the ad ran on "adult air time." It's all over YouTube now. And then there's the question of the big/square butts... which is supposed to make us want to... eat burgers? Or watch more SpongeBob?

Even if you can for a minute, set aside all of the ifs, ands and/or but(t)s --I still fail to see how this campaign promotes either brand.


Shaping Youth said...

Hey, Allison...well, you KNOW my take on this one...as I wrote about it at length on Shaping Youth in "When it's not hip to be square: Sexist Spongebob and Burger Shots":


One of the reader comments caught my eye as he played it in slow-mo and conjectured it was downright sleaze-city. I think the biggest issue here is the objectification absurdity...not whether it's 'sexy' or not...As I replied to one of our commenters,

"....there’s a huge difference between ’sexy’ and ’sexualization.’In this case, we’re talking the latter, as no one would deem squarebutts to be erotica…it’s the objectification and ongoing ‘booty as beauty’ bit that I’m taking issue with as it’s damaging girls’ sense of self in epic proportion…"

Anyway, that's my take. See you in June at Ypulse? --a.

Mari said...

I completely agree with everything you've said - and I think it's the feiminist in me (and the mom of a young girl) that reacts first.

It's your marketing-angled response that's best, because I agree, it's not helping either brand. Unless of course you subscribe to the "any publicity is good publicity" train of thought...