• Are Super Bowl Ads Selling Hamburgers or Sex?

    by  • January 26, 2015 • 4 Every Girl, Advertiser Accountability, Sexualization • 18 Comments


    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.



    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

    18 Responses to Are Super Bowl Ads Selling Hamburgers or Sex?

    1. LA8PV
      February 9, 2015 at 4:49 am

      My 12 year old son to his 10 year old sister, after watching the Carl’s Jr AD:
      “That’s it, Stella, I never want to go there again!”.

    2. Char
      January 31, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      You are not getting any business with your pornographic ads.
      Skip the junk and fire your ad agency. I won’t be a customer.

    3. RT
      January 30, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      I love hamburgers. And I find nothing wrong with beautiful women in a marketing campaign. But these commercials are without taste and shameless. We cannot force ourselves to eat a Carls Jr product because we feel we are enabling more of these soft porn productions.

    4. Jim
      January 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Carls Jr. has been airing sex-based, tasteless commercials for years!! I will never eat at Carls Jr. or Hardees!!
      Enough!! Cancel the Super bowl ad!!

    5. CK Mitchell
      January 30, 2015 at 11:18 am

      Email just sent to Carl’s Jr.
      Good grief, have you no class whatsoever? I have just seen your horrible Super Bowl commercial and it is obvious you don’t realize that this does NOT bring customers into your locations. Rather, it is distasteful and ridiculous to say the least. I wonder what demographic you are trying to attract with this.
      Wake up! Consistently good food at reasonable cost coupled with clean stores and friendly employees are what is needed. Need I say I will not visit a Carl’s Jr until you change your marketing?
      Wake up! And/or fire your current marketing/advertising staff and agency.

    6. Mary
      January 30, 2015 at 10:24 am

      I’ve seen a portion of the ad in question and have to agree with the majority of posts here. It is completely unnecessary and quite likely detrimental to their company in the end. Some people who’d never feed their kids junk will let them see this trash and think nothing of it. I was encouraged to read the post that also complained about the Victoria’s Secret ads as I have always objected to them. I hope a lot of men will join in this protest as well.

    7. January 30, 2015 at 8:11 am

      I don’t know what’s going through the minds of Carl’s ad agency. Carl’s is not a bar or a lounge and it’s not Hooters. How can they think that parents will frequent their restaurants with their children when the ads are offensive? I can’t believe that the founder would have allowed these terrible commercials.

      • Wendy
        March 2, 2015 at 7:14 pm

        It’s also bizarre that they tout that they don’t exploit the COWS they use for burger meat, but they have no problem exploiting female humans to sell those same burgers. Go figure.

    8. January 30, 2015 at 7:56 am

      I have written Carls Jr in the past about their lewd advertising. I know when Carl started his restaurants, he was a Christian. I do not know who has taken over but! I am so very disappointed in their advertising.

    9. Vicki
      January 30, 2015 at 7:34 am

      I am so tired of these porn stars being allowed to flaunt their immorality during supposed family friendly events like the Super Bowl. How can we stop this from being aired while our small children and grandchildren are watching? The same goes for the Victoria’s Secrets porn stars. Stop already!! The men interested in you know where to find you & how much to pay, so stay off our broadcasts!

    10. kay
      January 30, 2015 at 7:18 am

      Does anyone REALLY run out and buy burgers or anything else after seeing the disgusting commercials? I’m not a prude but seeing the half dressed women you exploit for commercials only KEEPS ME AWAY from Carl Jr. and Hardy’s. Go for burgers where this typs of stuff doesn’t exploit a woman’s body with hopes sales will go thru the roof. I hope you will clean up your ads and realize sex really does not sell anything!
      Thank you

    11. jp
      January 30, 2015 at 6:57 am

      Go to their website and flood them with your comments! Let them know you are disgusted with this ad and will not give them your business.

    12. Pat
      January 30, 2015 at 5:35 am

      Previously liked Carl Jr. burgers but will NEVER purchase them or visit their business again. This ad is beyond sickening! Will not patronize Hardees either due to their suggestive advertising.

    13. Carolyn
      January 30, 2015 at 5:33 am

      I just read that it has been banned from Super Bowl because of the PTC. It makes me sad to watch. I refuse to eat at Carls Jr. So does my 20 year old son for this reason. They’ve opened one up in Houston near us. I’ll never have an appetite for this place. I guess you could say they’ve left a bad taste in our mouths.

    14. Ginny
      January 30, 2015 at 5:28 am

      This is just disgusting I quit bringing my family to Hardee’s because of these vulgar sexist commercials When their ads come on we change the channel They sure don’t think anything about their customers to act as tho none of their so called targeted audience are that low and moralless

    15. Melanie Hutzler
      January 30, 2015 at 5:24 am

      My kids will b watching the Super Bowl. Please remove the commercial.

    16. Jerry Evans
      January 30, 2015 at 5:12 am

      What makes you think showing a lewd commercial will sell more hamburgers?

    17. Gail Howell
      January 30, 2015 at 4:53 am

      I love Hardee’s but I hate your nasty commercials. You don’t need them. Your product is better than that.

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