Mom, what is that girl doing with her hamburger?

Unsure of what to write about, I asked my thirteen-year-old daughter’s advice for a writing prompt. She suggested I write about how advertising has changed since I was her age and then reminded me of how I’m always complaining about the Carl’s Jr. commercials and billboards. So here it goes a little combination of the two.

Clearly I am not the target audience of Carl’s Jr. If I make it through a commercial, I’m embarrassed for women everywhere and am more likely to have self-esteem issues than to eat a burger. Regardless of my own issues, most concerning is that these commercials are on regular television and the ones online are even worse.  As a parent of three children, I don’t appreciate Carl’s Jr. advertisements because it prompts questions like, “Mom, what’s the mile high club?” and “What is that girl doing with her hamburger?” And a number of other questions I can guarantee I never asked my mom.

When I was a kid Carl’s Jr. had Happy the Star. Remember him? He was cute, friendly and so not controversial. In 1984, Carl’s Jr. was excited to share the big deal and in the early 1990s they encouraged customers to go for the food. Sure the commercials weren’t award winning but they aren’t winning any awards now either.

Then in the mid-1990s the company retired Happy the Star and rolled out their “If it doesn’t get all of the place, it doesn’t belong in your face” campaign. While the slogan could be somewhat questionable, the advertisements like the one featuring Dennis Rodman, although messy, were not disgustingly sexual or offensive at first. While some criticized the advertisements, the LA Times reported the campaign was a success and sales for the burger company were higher than ever.  Fast forward to 2005 Paris Hilton does a commercial half-naked—wait she may be more than half-naked—washing a car and eating a burger. Oh and in case you missed that one she did an encore commercial in 2014 and brought a friend. Nine years later. Really?

For nearly a decade, Carl’s Jr. has utilized this same line of marketing. And the commercials just keep getting worse it seems. Well maybe that is not entirely true. Maybe Carl’s Jr. is trying to clean it up. The most recent commercial I saw, the mile high club, I have to admit I didn’t tell my children to avert their eyes right away. The woman at least has clothes on but the language and actions are just so overtly suggestive. Haven’t we seen enough? And can’t we just move on? I’m almost afraid to ask but what is next for the company? Where do they go from here? Maybe full nudity with a side of fries by 2020…who knows.

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13 Responses to Mom, what is that girl doing with her hamburger?

  1. Johnny Durant says:

    Gina, I have always found Carl’s Junior ads to be funny, cutting edge, and disturbing. They are clearly targeting males and young males with their ads, one can assume this is their key demographic. The advertisements are centered on what their customers are interested in, the emotional concerns of their consumers, and the advertising makes a clear connection between emotional happiness and food.

    I have to say that while I don’t necessarily agree with the approach, the effectiveness of the ads is hard to ignore.

    • gina says:

      I agree JD…which I think is part of makes me so disappointed. Why are we okay with this? Many just shake their head, laugh and think it’s funny that this type of marketing works. What is it going to take for us to say enough is enough? I hope something changes before my son becomes part of the target market.

  2. Linda says:

    This is a timely post considering our review of the Dove case and the Real Beauty campaign emphasizing the awareness of girls’ self esteem issues. http://contently.com/strategist/2014/07/30/does-sex-still-sell-or-does-it-do-more-harm-than-good/
    I agree that these ad are extremely successful, otherwise Carl Jr. would have changed their strategy long ago. Other than Dove, are there any real advocates for the representation of women in the media? Women, in particular female celebrities may need to stand up for the harmful stereotyping of women BUT the problem lies in the stars themselves portraying these unrealistic visions of beauty in movies and television. Face it, we are still living in a man’s world where money talks and you know what else walks.
    Linda

    • gina says:

      Thanks for the article Linda! Great point about the female celebrities allowing themselves to be portrayed in this way.

  3. ugatti says:

    I agree with Johnny about the effectiveness. I believe that the ads are targeted to a specific target audience; probably because of the result of market research studies. The use of young and attractive females definitely get the attention of male customers, especially when this is combined with tasty food (not necessarily healthy). Though, I have to admit that from a moral stand point the campaigns that Carls’ Jr. uses may not be appropriate especially in a society that is trying to be more healthy conscious, especially from a dietary point of view.

  4. Tyler says:

    Hi Gina,

    This was timely. I saw the commercial a couple weeks ago, and laughed…I was also stuck in an airport somewhere in the U.S…Needed something quick, I saw Carl’s Jr waiting there waiting for me…And, yes, I purchased a Mile high burger. It was grotesque, but did the job.

    Anyway, I agree with JD that their messy commercials may be targeting males and their fantasies in recent years.

    Great source for creative fuel too!

    Tyler

  5. Darling says:

    It’s because of these ridiculous commercials that sometimes I’m glad I don’t have cable. This post is very timely based on the Dove case we discussed this week. Dove is trying to show women in a more positive light while other companies continue to only find women’s sexuality useful. This reminded me of something I brought up in my post Sex, Sweat, and Beer, that these types of commercials are sadly the ones that get the most people talking and even enjoying. Although I guess I understand that Carl’s Jr. is trying to target a particular market, I still don’t like that it’s the best thing they could come up with. I would also like to share that the same concept, with a sexy, six-pack abs man, wouldn’t do it for me either!

  6. Ashley says:

    I’ve always felt that Carl’s Jr. racy ads have pushed the envelope. I understand that the fast food giant is trying to target the 18-34 year male demographic, but the ads are just so transparent and obvious that I don’t know whether to cringe or to laugh. Personally, the ads don’t make me feel inspired to go out and buy one of their burgers, but, again, I’m not the target demographic. The strategy behind their campaigns isn’t complex or impressive, but the ads do stand out in our minds because they’re so hard to miss.

    I’d really like to see Carl’s Jr. approach their marketing efforts with a new, fresh angle. They could use a little creativity, and, although the ads do generate conversation, I’m sure it’s not the most effective way to get people to buy their burgers.

  7. Chanel says:

    As a young adult non-parent I found the commercial hilarious. However, if I did have a kid I would be pretty disturbed…having to explain what the mile high club?! I don’t even know. I would hope for parents’ sake that it wasn’t aired on anything prime time at all… The Paris Hilton ads I TOOOOOTALLY didn’t get either. I was thinking to myself that I’m not going to take advice about what burger to eat from a skinny chick who probably needs to eat this burger. Paris Hilton eating this burger…doesn’t make me want to eat this burger at all. Why can’t they just show their burgers/ingredients in a delicious way with people savoring and just completely in joy eating them?! THAT would make me hungry and want one.

  8. Anamaria says:

    Sex sells. It’s as simple as that. And Carl’s Jr. has no shame. I thank my lucky stars that I now have the ability to record shows and fast forward right through the ads. As a mom with two kids, 7 and 11, I face these questions too. And it sucks. To the point where I detest Carl’s Jr. I used to eat there once in a while and I now go out of my way to avoid eating there. I won’t bring them my business. They’re just as bad as Hooters. Maybe worse because Hooters doesn’t advertise on Network TV when I’m watching with my kids (yes, Carl’s Jr does). My question then back to Carl’s Jr. is — at what point is it not worth alienating a whole segment of your potential customer base?

  9. Graham says:

    Hi Gina, Great post! I too think that Carls Jr has strayed from the mainstay core of the business – families. I remember mine at a very young age driving through and my folks trying to talk me into the Big Burger instead of the Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger. The Big Burger was cheaper and I imagine it didn’t weigh so heavily on their conscience. I don’t go there any more. Mostly because I’ve had a few bad meals there and the “get all over the place” choice of words doesn’t inspire confidence that my meals will get better. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia talking but in my view, they used to be somewhere between In-N-Out and Dennys and now they seem a kin to a Jack in the Box. As for the sexually suggestive content in the ad, it probably should bother you. You were once the target market, and in going after the young crowd with the shift in campaigns Carls Jr kinda betrayed you. It’s no wonder their brand is becoming innocuous and bland.

  10. pchoksi says:

    Commercials have changed over the last few years. I fail to understand how skin show has really affected building a brand following or a customer base.

  11. Catherine says:

    I agree that Carl’s Jr. has over-the-top hypersexualized advertisements, and from what I can remember, this started with a commercial depicting Paris Hilton eating a burger while riding a mechanical bull. I always remember thinking “what does any of this have to do with fast food? Supermodels most likely don’t even eat fast food.”

    However, the trends has only picked up since then, which generally can only mean one thing: its working. Misogynistic advertisements, such as Dr. Pepper’s “only for a man” campaign have seen a rise over the years. But the problem that arises with these kind of campaigns is that it alienates half of their consumer base and confuses children. These kind of ads need to stop and the only way to do that is to make sure the ads don’t work — don’t shop at companies that have terrible ads like these.