I’ve heard it said that “any publicity is good publicity.” If that’s the case, then Burger King is going to owe CPYU for advertising time. Oh well. I couldn’t let this one slip past without comment. If you were watching the NCAA Basketball finals last week chances are you saw the new Burger King commercial for their 99 cent Sponge Bob Squarepants kids’ meal. . . . the KIDS’ meal. The ad brings together three pop culture icons in an interesting and somewhat confusing mix. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in that marketing meeting. There’s the BK King. . . not surprising. Then there’s Sponge Bob Squarepants, that popular Nickelodeon animated character who has a large and loyal young following. . . okay, a good marketing choice for a licensing agreement. Then the mix gets weird. . . Sir-Mix-A-Lot provides the soundtrack and commentary with a remake of his old rap hit “Baby Got Back,” a song that touts the virtue of the female posterior. If you haven’t yet seen the 30-second spot, it’s worth watching.
So now I’m left scratching my head and wondering on several levels, is Burger King Serious?? Absolutely “yes” on the marketing level. I’m sure lots of time, research, money, and thought went into designing and producing the spot. As with all ads, there’s nothing haphazard there.
Regarding their claims that the ad is targeting adults. . . come on BK. We’re not stupid. I know very few adults who drool over the chance to eat a 99 cent kids’ meal complete with a Sponge Bob toy. In fact, I don’t know any. And if I did, I’d recommend a good counselor. Seriously, the grown-up fast food lovers I know who frequent BK jump right to any item that includes the words “DOUBLE” and “WHOPPER.” The combination of “Kids’ Meal” and “Sponge Bob” is so transparent. Didn’t we once hear this line of reasoning from the folks who came up with Joe Camel?
Finally, there’s the combination of kids’ fast food, a cartoon character, and a rap singer’s sexually-charged and explicit song that objectifies and degrades women. When critics sound the alarm – and that’s happening – BK will no doubt respond with some explanation that denies any negative influence from the inclusion of the latter member of the commercial’s trio of pop icons. In fact, BK will answer critics who ask “are you serious?” with the same exact question. Why is that? Quite simply, the folks who made this ad have been shaped in ways that have left them with a worldview that very seriously can’t see any grounds for protest, concern, or complaint. They are simply being true to their worldview. Remember when the Athenians were left scratching their heads over what Paul was telling them about the resurrection (Acts 17)? They weren’t being jerks. They weren’t trying to make Paul mad. Instead, they looked at each other in a bewildered way because their worldview had no categories for what he was saying. To them, Paul was an incomprehensible babbler. That’s most likely where we’re at as a culture right now. And the back-and-forth over the BK ad that’s sure to intensify is actually a collision of worldviews.
Which brings us to the teachable moment. What are you going to do with the BK ad? If you’re a parent, will you talk about it with your kids? If you’re a youth worker, will you address it in your ministry? Any suggestions?
As for me, I resolve to not eat at Burger King. Big deal, I haven’t eaten there for a couple of years anyway. My wife’s BK commentary and concern for our family’s health have resulted in my withdrawal of citizenship from that part of our fast food nation. That’s okay. As long as Chic-Fil-A’s around, that’ll keep me happy.