An American burger chain renowned for its raunchy, overtly sexist advertising could face a backlash in Australia for its “exploitative” and “degrading” promotional campaigns, says a grassroots advertising watchdog.
American fast food restaurant Carl’s Jr, which opens in Australia on Tuesday, has become famous for its unapologetic attitude towards their soft-porn food advertisements.
Usually these campaigns feature a scantily clad model, sometimes a famous one like Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton or Paris Hilton, frolicking with a burger in hand to the sexy tagline “eat like you mean it”.
Makes sense right? Not in the slightest, according to Collective Shout’s Coralie Alison.
“We find the advertising Carl’s Jr has used in other countries to be exploitative and degrading to women,” she told The New Daily.
“They have actually claimed that they are going to have sexy double meanings in their advertising.
“With Carl’s Jr coming in, and using the same type of sexist, exploitative advertising, it is damaging for the community who lives in that area.”
The chain’s first Australian store opens in the New South Wales central coast town of Bateau Bay on Tuesday, and any marketing campaign is expected to cover TV, radio and ads on public transport.
The store was the first in a plan to set up 300 across the country over the next 10 to 15 years, expanding the company’s presence past the more than 30 countries it currently operates in.
Collective Shout, a group campaigning to end sexism and objectification of women and girls in advertising and the media, took aim at Carl’s Jr’s “porn-themed” ads in October, encouraging consumers to lodge complaints with authorities. They were now watching closely and poised to act if the upcoming campaign breached advertising standards.
“They teach boys and men that women are just passive objects to be looked at and acted upon,” Ms Alison said.
“There are messages coming through in the advertising that are far greater than advertising a burger or advertising food.”
An ad for the Australian stores features model Gemie Howie, dressed only in a white bikini, spilling sauce on her chest and licking her fingers suggestively in a sales pitch for the Western Bacon Cheeseburger. It comes with a tagline: “More than just a piece of meat.”
If you aren’t familiar with the ads, decide for yourself what you think of the one below.
Does sex sell?
If you asked the CEO of Carl’s Jnr and Hardee’s parent company, CKE Restaurants, he would likely say yes.
“At Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, we believe in offering only the highest-quality, most satisfying food and we believe in supporting our food with advertising that says something about who we are,” Andy Puzder said in 2011 of an upcoming ad campaign.
But a 2015 study by market research company Ameritest suggested it may be turning some consumers away.
They gauged consumer reaction to the 2015 Super Bowl ad (seen above) and found 32 per cent of people felt worse about Carl’s Jr after they had seen it, compared to 8 per cent for other companies. According to Carl’s Jr representatives, this was a contrast to their own market research which suggested the campaign had boosted sales.
But there were far more detrimental effects to the use of sexism in advertising than a drop in sales.
“There are lots of studies out there now showing links between the objectification of women, sexist joking and that type of language, and violence against women which is obviously a big topic in Australia at the moment,” Collective Shout’s Ms Alison said.
She also cited a recent marketing study that found sexualised campaigns had a neutral, or negative, effect on sales.
“There is more of a groundswell at the moment against companies who market in this way with people saying: ‘no, you are not going to get my consumer dollar’,” Ms Alison said.
“Businesses need to be a lot more clever about how they market to consumers.”