Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sir Mix-A-Lot Is Mixing Things Up At Burger King

"Oh my God, Becky look at her...phonebook?"

CP+B is in the news again with a new sexualized ad for Burger King that plays off Sir Mix-a-Lot's classic song Baby Got Back. The commercial has spawned a lot of controversy—is it funny or is it inappropriate? Everyone familiar with the song (in other words, my entire generation) knows the song centers around Sir Mix-a-Lot's admiration of large female butts. This isn't the first time Sir Mix-a-Lot's famous one hit wonder has hit the commercial waves, but this particular commercial is aimed at kids.

The BK spot features Sir Mix-a-Lot and Sponge Bob since BK is offering Sponge Bob toys in their kids meals. The controversy comes when the images of Sponge Bob are mixed in with music video like images of Sir Mix-a-Lot and women in tight mini dresses with phonebooks shoved up them. Sir Mix-a-Lot consequently sings about liking square butts.

I was very undecided on where I stood on this commercial. On the one hand, it's funny to an adult audience, but I can definitely understand concerned parents as well. Sponge Bob is one of those cartoons, beloved by children but also capable of being genuinely entertaining to adults as well. Believe it or not, Sponge Bob has some adult fans—I've even met a few that didn't have kids. The problem is that this commercial is clearly aimed at children. It's on at times when kids would be watching tv and advertises Sponge Bob toys.

I'm a bit delayed on this post, I know. There have been many news reports and blogs discussing the issue. I was very undecided on where I stood and felt ill equipped to say anything without being a parent myself, so I solicited opinions from friends and relatives who are young parents. Not completely surprisingly, I got responses on both sides. Mothers who were disgusted by the commercial and others who shrugged their shoulders and laughed at it. There were a few stuck in the middle though too, finding the commercial funny themselves, but not quite appropriate for their children. I suppose the main consensus, however, was that this spot is not really child appropriate.

But where did CP+B cross the line? The concept is funny and oddly appropriate. Who cares that it's about butts? I mean kids talk and laugh about butts all the time. But one of the responses I received nailed the problem I have with this commercial on the head:
... as the father of a young daughter, what I do find to be troubling are the sexual images of young women. (They should have been consistent and had a row of people dressed in SpongeBob mascot outfits, quite frankly.)
Exactly! Would the commercial have lost anything to have both men and women with phone book butts in slightly looser clothing? I really don't think it would. I realize the original song is very sexual, but it could be just as humorous to adults while staying appropriate for kids. After all they are marketing a kids meal. I think the real humor of the concept is playing off Sponge Bob's square butt. He has one. It's funny. They half mention the fact in the title of the show—Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Overall, I think the concept of the spot was brilliant, but the execution was off. A tamer version could have kept the integrity of the concept while quelling the concerns of parents, but then again maybe all the media attention was exactly what CP+B and Burger King were aiming for. What do you think? Would a tamer version be capable of walking the line between funny and child appropriate?


Bill said...

Good post. Worth the wait.

Sarah said...

You explain the problem very well. Seeing the commercial, I felt oddly uneasy about it, and I wasn't sure why. I also found it strange considering that most kids aren't going to recognize Sir Mix-a-Lot himself at the end of the spot anyhow. Spongebob does have a wide-ranging audience, but the show is always appropriate for all ages. That's apart of its genius. The agency just wasn't as adept at carrying out that same brand of comedy; BK ads are usually mildly inappropriate in some way and I think they just missed the target this time.