Selling burgers with porn.

Advertising deconstructed.
Jan. 10 2005 2:23 PM

Porn, Again

Another lewd, suggestive ad for meat.

The "Fist Girl" ad The Spot: A blond woman—wearing a strapless dress and high heels—sticks her entire fist in her mouth, then pulls it back out and smiles. "How do you know if you can eat the largest double burger in the country?" asks the announcer. "There's one way to find out." In a second spot, a different blond woman—this one's wearing a spaghetti-strap top—crams her mouth full of plastic straws, raising her eyebrows and nodding at the camera along the way.

About a year and a half ago, Hardee's revamped itself. Its menu was too confused—offering fried chicken, roast beef, and hot dogs—and it needed a fresh new image. So it simplified and focused on two things that seem to go great together: Excessively large hamburgers and 18- to 34-year-old males.

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.

The young dude demographic has become the key target for most fast-food chains. But young guys are perhaps the most jaded and cynical audience there is. To reach them, you can get all bizarre and absurdist (as in this Burger King campaign I wrote about). Or you can fall back on a trusty old standby: sex.

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Hardee's went with sex. I hadn't seen these new ads on television (Hardee's is not in the Northeast or west of the Rockies), but a reader asked me to check them out. She compared the ads to "Internet porn." And I think she has a point. Consider this video clip synopsis: A woman walks alone onto a featureless stage, wearing high heels and a dress … and proceeds to fist herself. Go on, Google those particular nouns and verbs. See where it takes you.

The male version of the ad with straws Of course, if you want to reach 18- to 34-year-old men, porn is no doubt a useful touchstone. I asked Hardee's about this, and folks there wouldn't quite take my bait. But Brad Haley, the executive vice president of marketing, did acknowledge that their target is "young, hungry guys" and that "the music, casting, attitude, and edginess is all geared for that target." Haley says these ads are more like a beer campaign than like other fast-food campaigns. "Sometimes having an ad you can disagree with your parents about will strengthen your bond with a brand."

A previous Hardee's spot showed a model riding a mechanical bull—as she seductively ate a burger. Though the ad received some intense responses, they were nothing like the reaction to the "Fist Girl" spot. (That's actually what it's called.) And the excess of Hardee's ads has ramped up in tandem with the excess of its burgers.

The straws ad: Girls do it better"Fist Girl" is for the Monster Thickburger, launched this past November. The Monster consists of two one-third-pound patties, three slices of American cheese, four strips of bacon, a slathering of mayonnaise, and a pair of buttered buns. That's 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat. This burger may in fact exceed the cubic capacity of my stomach.

The plain old Thickburger (the Monster Thickburger's smaller predecessor) was termed "food porn" by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI gives this label to food it considers outlandishly unhealthy. I guess if the Thickburger qualifies as food porn, the Monster Thickburger is XXX hard-core food porn, with cheese bondage and underage buns and deviant bacon orgies. I suppose it's only natural there are porntastic ads to match.

To me, it's unappealing when a sandwich is so large I must contort my mouth to fit it. Nor do I want to think about porn when I'm eating. (A recent Ball Park Franks spot that emphasized how "girthy" the hot dogs are posed the same problem.) I much prefer a new McDonald's ad that plays on a similar notion (sandwich so big it won't fit in your mouth) but offers a funnier, more appetizing take. It shows a Mexican wrestler (the kind who wears a mask) who can't fit a burger through the mouth hole of his costume. He is forced to unmask himself to get at his delicious McDonald's food. Simple concept, clever, not revolting. 

Grade: B-. Whatever I may think of these ads, I bet they're effective with the target demographic. By the way, there's a third ad in the campaign that shows a guy stuffing straws in his mouth, just like the girl does. But the music and the pace of it set a far less pornographic mood. The girls use their eyes to flirt with the camera while stuffing things in their mouths, but the guy has the aggressive attitude of a frat boy carrying out a barstool bet. I'm guessing Hardee's filmed the male version just to head off any porn-related criticism.

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