Does "girth" sell?

Advertising deconstructed.
June 28 2004 8:56 AM

Ads That Make You Go Ew

Who buys hot dogs because they're "girthy"?

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The spot: An obese man is tending a barbecue grill. He's cooking some Ball Park Franks. He says he likes his hot dogs "girthy." He keeps repeating that word—claiming he likes "the way it rolls off my tongue"—as he holds the frank up to his mouth; issues a guttural moan; and wraps his lips around the big, swinging dog. In all, he says "girthy" a full seven times. (Click here to see the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

"Girthy" is not a common word. You don't hear it very often. When you do hear it, the context is generally penises.

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Back me up here, people. I'm not crazy, right? This term gets used most frequently in discussions about male endowment.

Now, I swear, I know this only because I once did a piece on the porn industry. The story never ran, which makes my excuse seem even flimsier, but honest, I had to do lots of reporting. I toured smut studios outside L.A. I visited sets. I met starlets, and directors, and porn addicts. They at times would use the word "girth," and I assure you they weren't talking about frankfurters.

A quick Nexis search shows that "girthy" made it into print only 23 times in the past year. Three times it refers to ears of corn (it appears to be commercial farming jargon). The New York Times employs it to describe an opera singer (of course they do). And oddly, it appears in four separate storiesin Guitar Player magazine (each time, the word refers either to guitar necks or guitar sounds; all four stories are by a writer named Art Thompson—who either had an ongoing bet with friends, or was in a real bad adjective rut).

Ah, but there it is, just once, in a usage not so chaste. Thank you, University of Houston Daily Cougar! You know what I'm talking about. So do the readers who sent me e-mail asking about this ad (one writes that with "Frank's tone and pronunciation of the word, it's almost impossible to avoid some extremely unpleasant sexual connotations with the product"). A Web search (I don't recommend it) confirms my thesis beyond any doubt: This word is a dirty word.

Especially when it gets put in a hot dog commercial. Repeated over and over, in a lascivious tone. Followed by satisfied grunting. We have to face it: Hot dogs—sometimes called "wieners"—are a little bit phallic. So, wouldn't you try to avoid using words that bring this to the fore?

I've no doubt that many hot dog consumers also perform fellatio. And more power to them. But do they really wish to contemplate this act while noshing on a frank at a barbecue? Also, are they Ball Park's target demographic? In a corporate press release, spokesman "Frank" is described as a "straight-talking, All-American" guy who "believes in red meat, cold beer, [and] spectator sports …" I hate labels, but this sounds like your classic straight dude. Not so much a fellatiator.

In the end, we're left with two possibilities. The first is that Ball Park, and their ad agency, were unaware of the connotation. I can imagine how this might happen. Were I at the planning meeting where this ad was first pitched, as, like, a junior executive or something, I would not want to be the guy who brought up penises. So, maybe no one brought it up.

The other possibility is that Ball Park knows exactly what it's doing. That somehow consumer research has proven that folks like the hot dog/penis connection. It must have been a doozy of a focus group.