Are Super Bowl Ads Selling Hamburgers or Sex?

Written by PTC | Published January 26, 2015

2015CarlsJr Which Super Bowl ads do you find yourself sharing with your Facebook friends and family? Or talking about at work the next day? Or watching over and over again on You Tube? Like most people, I expect they are the ads that tug at your heartstrings, the ones that evoke warm memories, the ones that inspire you. Years after the fact, people still fondly recall Dodge Ram’s “So God Made a Farmer” ad which premiered during the 2013 Super Bowl. People still look forward, even after all these years, to the latest Budweiser commercial featuring their iconic team of Clydesdales. And yet despite the proven success and longevity of poignant ads like these, to say nothing of the good-will and positive brand associations they create with consumers, some companies still prefer to take the low-road with their Super Bowl advertising. This year Carl’s Jr. will spend an estimated $4.5 million to air a tawdry, sexualizing and exploitative ad that will likely be forgotten soon after it airs. Those familiar with the brand know that this is their stock - trade: commercials featuring scantily-clad models or B-list celebrities suggestively eating a hamburger. But after a while, the ads all start to run together, and who can even remember what new product they were pedaling? This year’s ad is perhaps more suggestive than previous years’. It features a model walking around what appears to be a farmer’s market. We are to infer that she is naked, since the ad positions her in front of a man pinching a tomato which serves as a stand-in for her buttocks; or behind a pair of cantaloupes being weighed on a scale, which serves as a stand-in for her breasts. Eventually we see that she’s actually wearing a pair of short-shorts and a string bikini top that leaves little to the imagination. Carl’s Jr. is falling back on their standard defense: the ads are designed to target their core demographic of young, hungry guys. How pathetic. Apparently Carl’s Jr. thinks very little of America’s young men; and even less of America’s young women. Carl’s Jr. has the potential to revolutionize the fast-food industry. They have introduced an “all-natural burger,” made with grass-fed beef that’s antibiotic- and hormone-free, but instead of appealing to their customer’s brains and convincing them of the superiority of their product over their competitors’, they are aiming for the groin, selling the women as sex objects instead of the hamburgers. Carl’s Jr. needs to recognize:
  • A family of three or more will buy more burgers than a single “young, hungry guy.”
  • Older audiences, those who are more likely to be turned-off by this approach to advertising, have more disposable income than their coveted “young, hungry guy.”
  • Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Subway, and Chipotle are all out-performing Carl’s Jr. in sales, and guess what they don’t do in their advertising? Sexualize women.
  • Ads like this have a negative impact on brand equity, according to the Association of National Advertisers. Conversely, airing ads for family-oriented brands in family content has a significant positive impact on brand equity attributes.
Carl’s Jr. may be the most notorious brand for using exploitative and sleazy ads to sell their product, but they are by no means alone. If you are planning to watch the Super Bowl with your family, it’s best to know what to expect. AdAge helpfully provides a run-down of some of the Super Bowl commercials that are already getting a lot of attention. Some are touching and sentimental, some are clever and quirky, others may have you diving for the remote. If ads are a concern for you, make sure you have a commercial-break plan in place.

Take Action. Stay Informed.