In June of 2009, Burger King released an advertisement for the “BK Super Seven Incher” for a limited promotion in Singapore. The sexual message that this ad aims to convey is not so much hidden or subliminal as it is blatantly obvious. Not many would be able to simply glance at this ad and then go about their day. Men and women alike are drawn to the ad because they are either attracted to it or offended by it. Effective advertising usually triggers some kind of powerful emotion within its audience.
In that respect, this advertisement succeeds with flying colors. Whether it is because of feelings of disgust or attraction, the images in this ad are difficult to ignore which is exactly what the advertiser envisioned happening. Although very ineffective, this ad is still being analyzed today which is quite significant. Burger King’s advertisement effectively creates and manipulates the narrative, layout, and copy to create a strong reaction to sexism and vulgarity within its audience causing them to only focus on the nature of the ad, not how much they want to buy the product.
The ad, through its imagery and text, aims to create a fantasy where all a man has to do is hold a burger and young, attractive women will want to have sex with them. Even if men do not consciously think this way, the idea it is still in the back of their minds. In an attempt to create an effective subtext with these images and words, the ad dehumanizes both men and women.
On one hand, the woman in the ad is seen as an object who is only useful in sexual situations — hence the focal point of her face, her mouth which is directly in line with the burger. Many have even noted that the woman resembles a blow-up doll which further solidifies the idea of transforming women into sexual devices rather than human beings. On the other hand, a phallic idea is triggered in a man’s mind that to create the notion that size does matter and this ad presents it as the only thing that really does matter when it comes to attracting a woman. It gives men the impression that if they are not well endowed, women will disregard them unless they are seen eating this burger.
The prominent images of this ad cause the audience to have a strong emotional reaction to the ad whether they know it or not. The portion of the advertisement that first catches the audience’s eye is the image of a stunned, fairly artificial looking woman with her mouth agape to a sandwich that seems to be appearing out of nowhere. The sandwich pictured with the woman also looks much thinner and longer than the one pictured at the bottom. The image of the sandwich next to the woman’s mouth creates obvious phallic visualizations within the audience’s minds.
The ad’s blatant allusion to oral sex causes the audience to have a strong reaction upon seeing it. The image suggests that upon eating this sandwich, every adjacent woman will be rendered helpless at the sight of a man holding a seven inch burger. The woman also seems to be looking at something out of frame beyond the sandwich. The mysterious item in the shadows that the woman’s eyes are fixed on adds yet another cue a man could subconsciously get by looking at the ad. This allows a man to conjure up any type of scenario within his mind from only the presence of shadows in the ad. Right below is the second-most prominent part of the ad: the words “It’ll Blow Your Mind Away” in large font with the two largest words in that sentence being “It’ll Blow.” The ad tends to two very significant aspects of a young man’s life: food and sex. Food is a basic human need but it is not enough to say that this sandwich will satisfy your hunger, it must also be able to fulfill another desire. The images of this ad indirectly suggest that the sandwich will cater to a man’s hunger as well as his sexual frustration.
Along with the suggestive images this ad presents, the words surrounding the artwork bring an equally as obvious but a much more distasteful idea to the mind. In small font at the bottom it reads: “fill your desire for something long, juicy and flame-grilled” because we all know that a long cake tastes better than a short one. The fact that the sandwich is seven inches long has little to nothing to do with the quality of the sandwich but rather the visualization that this extra long burger evokes while accompanied with the images. As if that was not enough to make a man go cross-eyed, it goes on to add that the burger will make one “yearn for more” after one taste. The seemingly endless sexually suggestive elements of this ad just causes it to be mulled over in the minds of men and women alike which adds to its effectiveness not to sell a product but to keep the Burger King name in
The name of the product in itself is also something to be considered. Without the imagery of the product it would be unclear as to what is being sold. Only in the small text do you see what this product is actually categorized under — a burger. To someone unfamiliar to this ad, the term “seven incher” could mean a plethora of items, both sexual and non-sexual. Because of the lack of distinction between food and phallus, the audience gets the wrong (or the right) impression of this product. In describing the burger in further detail, the words “crispy,” “thick,” and “hearty” are used to create the idea that not only will you be attracting women from all over the globe, you will also be buying a top-of-the-line meal for the bargain price of $6.25 — an idea any man would be mesmerized by.
One long-running advertisement of a similar product could come to mind when faced with an ad centered upon the size of a sandwich — Subway’s “Five Dollar Foot Long” campaign. Unlike the Burger King ad, the Subway ad features mainly a catchy jingle and cheery imagery. Subway’s advertisers could have easily gone in the route that Burger King did and made the extra long sandwich sexual. Any company would choose not to sexualize their ads in order to avoid excluding the portion of their audience who would not be attracted to or would even be offended by such graphic images. Subway, instead, used positive and healthy imagery using athletes and generally fit people to advertise their product. In 2008, about the time the campaign for the five dollar sandwich began, the U.S. was faced with a financial crisis. As a result, Subway came up with the campaign of a cheap alternative to healthy food. As a result, a very marketable image of their product was created. A notable difference between Burger King’s ad and Subway’s ad is that the “BK Super Seven Incher” ad had to be taken down right after the backlash ensued; the everyday “Five Dollar Foot Long” campaign was sustained until Subway was pushed to increase the price of the sandwich due to inflation.
Much like an ad targeted to women of all ages that shows young, thin, energetic girls wearing fashionable clothing, this ad creates false scenarios in the minds of males about a situation that eating this burger will put them in. In the past, the appeals of Burger King ads seemed to be based on humor and were aimed towards a more universal audience. Their ads usually include the advertising mascot of the company, “The King,” who would often be presented in comical situations. The ad, in no way, alienated any group of people which is why it was kept. The problem in advertising today and particularly in this ad is that companies now allow their products to give off the wrong impression in order to get a rise out of people.
Despite its limited release, the unnecessarily sexual nature of the ad sparked much discussion around the world. Not long after the backlash, Burger King officials released a statement expressing that the ad was not created by their principal advertising agency, but by a more independent Singapore agency. Although the ad was taken down shortly thereafter, this does not change the fact that Burger King knew what they were getting themselves into in allowing this ad to be released. Excessively sexualizing a product could mean much negative repercussions for a company. Whether Burger King thought they could sell more sandwiches this way or not, they got the publicity that they were striving for. Although the feedback that they were receiving was extremely negative, it successfully got their name in people’s minds which is considered positive for any company.
Burger King, by no accident, released an overly sexual ad that could cause any consumer to think twice. In some cases, sex only sells to a point, then it becomes overkill meaning that the ad could work against them if it is deemed “too sexual.” Done in the right way, sexual ads are very successful but in those cases the ads are very subtle and usually focus on some kind of subliminal message. Burger King’s target audience who are predominately young males will certainly have a strong reaction to the ad but will most likely not be more inclined to buy the product after seeing it in those terms. This ad is a good example of how shock value gets attention but does not effectively sell a product.