Friday, June 15, 2007

Hardee's Invites More Controversy with New Commercial?

Today I saw a rather interesting advertisement in our local newspaper. It was from the owners of the local Hardee's restaurant stating that they found the latest Hardee's commercial for their patty melt extremely offensive (they put that in bold letters at that). They were encouraging people to either call or email CKE Restaurants Inc. (who own Hardee's, called "Carl's Jr." in the extreme Western United States) expressing their displeasure at the commercial.For those of you who have not seen the commercial, it features a blonde clad in nothing but a white shirt rolling around with a patty melt to narration consisting almost entirely of double entendres. It opens with the words "Patty melts for you..."

Doing a search on the World Wide Web I didn't find a lot in the way of controversy over the commercial, although I think that is exactly what could be brewing for Hardee's. I found a few blogs and even newspaper commentaries in which people complained about the commercial. And it has even attracted the attention of the American Decency Association, a Christian group based in Fremont, Michigan dedicated to advancing "public morality consistent with biblical Christianity."It also seems to have attracted the attention of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association. I rather suspect it won't be long before this brewing controversy attracts the attention of the major media outlets.

Of course, this is not the first time that Hardee's has invited controversy with their commercials. In 2003 Hardee's debuted a commercial which featured a comely young woman eating one of their burgers while riding suggestively on a mechanical bull to the tune of Foghat's "Slow Ride." Watchdog groups such as the American Family Association protested the ad, and it is referenced among those in which the American Decency Association feels Hardee's "used sex to try to sell their product." Later in 2003 Hardee's started an ad campaign on television that featured Hugh Hefner and some beautiful young women promoting the variety of the fast food chain's menu with plenty of double entendres. The commercial attracted the ire of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association and similar groups.

Of course, their most notorious commercial was the one debuting in May 2005 which featured Paris Hilton in a swimsuit soaping down a Bentley before eating one of Hardee's burgers. The Parents Television Council, a watchdog group based in Los Angeles, referred to the commercial as "...basically soft-core porn." Other watchdog groups (including the American Family Association, as might be expected) expressed similar sentiments. In fact, many newspaper and magazine articles asked the question of whether the ad was too hot for TV.

In February of this year Hardee's debuted a commercial for their Buffalo wings in which a young man watched as a scantily clad waitress provocatively wiped down a table. This commercial didn't seem to provoke as much controversy as the Paris Hilton ad, although it did attract the attention of the American Decency Association, who list it among the various commercials in which they allege Hardee's has used sex to sell their product.

The patty melt commercial seems to be the latest in a string of Hardee's commercials in which they seem as if they are provoking media watchdogs on purpose. Indeed, their responses to media watchdog groups over commercials in the past is not quite what I would expect from a fast food chain.Using sex to sell products is nearly as old as advertising itself, and so are the protests such practices sometimes invite. That having been said, it seems to me that usually when a company's commercial is found to be overly offensive by even a tiny group of viewers, that company will often pull the commercial. One example of this was a 1967 Noxzema Shaving Cream ad featuring future B-movie star Caroline Munro that was considered racy even by that product's standards (keep in mind this was the era of their "Take it off" campaign). A 1977 commercial for Dole Bananas featured a young woman suggestively taking a bite out of a banana to a Pink Floyd soundtrack. The commercial was considered so provocative that it was yanked from the airwaves. Some of you might remember the "Swedish bikini team" commercials for Old Milwaukee beer aired in 1991. After complaints, Old Milwaukee ended the campaign. Even Calvin Klein Inc., a company whose commercials have courted controversy from the very beginning, has pulled ads that many thought were too suggestive.

While other companies will pull ads at the first whiff of controversy, Hardee's responds to complaints in ways I wouldn't expect. In response to complaints about their Hugh Hefner ad campaign, CKE President and CEO Andrew F. Puzder stated in a press release "Who better to deliver the message of variety than Hugh Hefner?" and that they were "...appealing to an audience of young, hungry guys..." CKE Restaurants Inc. was hardly apologetic. In response to the Parents Television Council's complaints about Hardee's Paris Hilton campaign, Puzder was even less apologetic. He told the group to "...get a life." This is not quite what I expect from a company in the United States, where the customer is always right, even when he may be wrong. I guess no one can accuse them of not standing by their commercials.

It will be interesting to see if this latest Hardee's commercial does create a good deal of controversy. It has attracted the attention of moral watchdog groups such as the American Family Association and the American Decency Association, but then these groups often attack things in the media which the general public finds innocuous (over the years the American Family Association has attacked shows ranging from Cheers to Mighty Mouse: the New Adventures and movies ranging from The Lion King to Shark Tale). Even if somehow the patty melt commercial does generate controversy among the general public, given the company's history I can't see Hardee's pulling the commercial off the air or changing their advertising practices any time soon. And in some respects they really don't have much motivation to do so. Their sales seem to have been fairly good the past few years. Reportedly, the notorious Paris Hilton ad was accompanied by bigger sales for Hardee's and Carl Jr.'s. And it's not as if commercials for such male enhancement drugs as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis, aren't suggestive enough (not to mention they use terminology some people might not want young children to hear). For better or worse, television is filled with sex these days, especially its commercials.

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