Still Not Buying it, Carl

Carl’s Jr. has a reputation.

Depending on what side of the evolutionary divide you sit on, it’s not a terribly good one. For 15 years, the fast-food restaurant has built its advertising around hot girls eating burgers in as few clothes as the FCC would allow. (When we say hot, let’s be clear—we’re mostly talking about white, thin, buxom, blonde women. Just in case you need “hot” defined for you.)

This tone was set at the very top of the organization. Former-CEO Andy Puzder stood behind the creative direction saying “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” According to Pudzer, “Ugly [women] don’t sell burgers.”

Of course, this didn’t come without controversy. The ads sparked protests both IRL and online including my personal favorite, #MoreThanMeat. And still the brand double-downed on its strategy, insisting that their target market—hungry young men—didn’t seem to mind.

That’s all (apparently) changing because Carl Sr. is back in charge. In an effort to move away from their transparently sexist past, the brand has released a new campaign featuring Carl Jr.’s dad. Carl Sr. comes back to the company to reorient the business back to what really matters—burgers, not boobs.

People are calling the pivot brilliant.

I’m calling it patronizing.

First, the positives: I’m really glad that we will no longer be subjected to half-naked women rolling around in burger patties. But if you analyze the content of the commercial, you quickly see the same old excuses for sexist behavior.

You see, Carl Jr. got “distracted” from what really matters. Carl Jr. just had to “sow his wild oats.”  So it’s all okay because you know… boys will be boys. Dad is here now, and will straighten all that out.

It’s a beautiful way to shift blame, isn’t it? This isn’t what the brand “really is.” It was a temporary distraction—that just happened to last YEARS.

I for one don’t believe that you can sweep years of reinforcing sexist stereotypes under the rug with a new campaign. For the last 15 years, Carl’s Jr. has capitalized on the objectification of women. That’s a generation of young women who have been condition to think they are only valuable when their bodies are packaged for and consumed by other people.

Why does this matter?

Because 53% of 12 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies.

Because 65% of women and girls have an eating disorder.

Because rates of depression among girls and women have doubled in just 10 years.

We can no longer excuse companies for their destructive choices. And as marketers who create media that sets cultural norms, we have to hold ourselves and our industry responsible for the content we create.

Sorry, Carl. You can’t just flip the dial and change the channel. We see you. And we’re still #NotBuyingIt.


*Statistics come from Miss Representation, a documentary about media’s portrayal of women and its impact on young girls and boys. You should watch as soon as you get the chance—it’s on Netflix right now.

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