When It’s Not Hip To Be Square: Sexist Spongebob & Burger Shots

sb-squarebuttsApril 17, 2009 “Booty is booty?” I say give BK’s agency a boot in the backside out the door for this one…

I’ve been trying NOT to cover this ad absurdity to avoid the media baiting and instead quietly took my views to Nickelodeon & Burger King via the CCFC sound off campaign here…but BK just keeps coming up with gaffe-a-minute badvertising, so I’ve gotta broil ’em a tad…

When ‘parental outcry types’ include industry pros (I’m a ‘given’ I’m referring to AdFreak and BrandFreak) then maybe business is finally capable of beginning to draw some lines in the sand? Don’t hold your breath though…Cash is still ‘king’ in burger wars selling ‘value’ without values.

No sooner had I ear-marked the ‘BK Burger Shots’ campaign (marketed in a six pack no less to be edgy) as blog fodder to run past the Marin Institute for its wink and nod to binge drinking…than I remembered their :30 ad of sexist stereotypes of women cooing over the baby burgers in ‘awww’ moments...

Burger King didn’t even make it into my ‘flame this whopper’ queue when they freakin’ did it AGAIN in yet ANOTHER shock schlock tactic using kids’ popular cartoon icon Spongebob to market a shake your booty hip-hop-square-butts KIDS meal. (video after the jump)

Sheesh. This is after the BK racial stereotypes ads were pulled due to complaints in Mexico City, so clearly misogyny is the last bastion of bad behavior…It appears blatantly selling sexist booty-burger-meat-packing on the backsides of females continues to make the airwaves.

Yep, I’d say Burger King wins the offensive corporate conduct award from Shaping Youth for incessantly pounding sleazy branding into kids brains, devolving our junk food culture to a new smarmy low.

bk-spongebob-backsideIt’s just so hard to choose WHICH moronic BK message is most worthy of the depravity of pop culture toxic tipping point award…

Shall we go for racist stereotypes, or positioning a cartoon sponge eyeballing girls’ keisters like a perv (degrading, insulting, lecherous and just plain morally bankrupt) or their binge drinking package-terminology (pop ‘em and you’re good to go’ kiddies) or the trashing of hip-hop via lame hoochie-mama rap narration,

“Swimmin’ through the seaweed tangles—is a butt with sharp right angles…Now, Burger King wants me to seal the deal – 99 cents get a toy and a Kid’s Meal!”

So hard to decide which absurdity to tackle first!

Sexualizing females to hawk Burger King Kids Meals—or anything else—to children is a raunchy strategy, since it’s clearly dollar driven profiteering attempting to go for the publicity hype of ‘hoping to outrage’ and gain press in the short run rather than see the long term harmful reverb of body objectification…(a reason I dodged posting, since it’ll be the usual ‘us vs. them’ spin, which is tediously boring)…Still:

bk-squarebuttsWhen edgy industry guys even find “…It’s hard to get past the inherent creepiness pouring forth from this unholy union” of  “The Burger King measuring women’s butts while Sir Mix-a-Lot raps about wanting to “get with” SpongeBob SquarePants…then it seems agency Crispin Porter’s ‘anything goes’ fun fest is finally falling flat. Pardon the pun, but…

Could it be…we’ve FINALLY hit ‘bikini bottom’ in the sea of sexist sludge?

From a sheer branding 101 perspective, SpongeBob SquarePants would seem to be a more intuitive marketing ally with the square patty of Wendy’s if they were trying to team up for junk food…but then, let’s see…

Didn’t industry self-rein zealots promise to stop promoting junk food via licensed cartoon characters overall?

Or was that just Nickelodeon agreeing to curb their ad slate to younger kids?

Hmn. Neither one happened…so they lied either way.

bk-posNot that it surprises, since empty nods from fast food eateries attempting to ‘shape up’ and offer ‘healthier options,’ is nothing short of ‘wellness washing’ when it comes to most of the purveyors of kids’ meals…As for the ‘healthier options’ it IS true they show a picture of Hershey’s  milk (emphasis on the chocolate bar in the logo) and Kraft macaroni and cheese “with calcium and vitamin D!” but what’s PARTICULARLY offensive to me is the mixed messaging with the BK Positive Steps (SM) nutrition program…Which I really, REALLY wanted to believe after reading the advances in this Institute of Medicine presentation.

Alas…the marketing side of me knew better.

I mean, c’mon, ‘The King’ brought us the ‘quad stacker’ and other heart-stopping cloggers boldly and proudly flying the individual choice/free agency flag for people’s right to over-consume, so let’s keep our branding straight, shall we?

But just to give them the benefit of the doubt, en route to L.A. I decided to rest-stop at Burger King and check out the promos myself…

I’d heard they were offering fat free milk and apple sticks that look like fries, and it’s always nice to have healthier choices on the road in blow-n-go pit stop mode…


…So I ditched my BK boycott in the name of market research and the conversation went like this:

“I’ll have this healthier kids meal you’ve got here…”

(I pointed to a tent card display of a BK Positive Steps ‘fresh apples cut like fries and a box of apple juice alongside two ‘burger shots’ with a Spongebob toy)

Then I said,

“But you can keep your toy, it’s just for me.”

“Ok, what drink would you like?”
“Um, the apple juice, like it shows.”
“Ok, what side would you like?”
“The apple sticks, like it shows.”
“Ok, so one BK kids meal with the apple options…Would you like any fries or a shake with that?”

Not kidding. Oh…And they put the toy in the meal anyway.

As I hunted through my sponge bag, I noted the apples came with a condiment packet of caramel sauce, they’re not packaged like fries, but in a clever plastic ‘browning protection’ bag touting,

“Made from fresh peeled apples! Fun fry shape” which of course includes a bounty of promos to go to “Look for codes on TOYS! For more fun on ClubBK.com” —you can ‘create your own BK online character, join in cool activities and get free food for your birthday.’

There’s a full color activity sheet of cross-promos touting the ‘Spongebob vs. The Big One’ on Nickelodeon (evidently tonight, April 17?) and the usual ‘collect ‘em all’ clutter consumption of every SB variation…

Yep. Same ol’ same ol’…

Good news? There was thankfully no cross-promotion of the creepy King or the square butts campaign in the bag… Yet.

thumb-downAs for PR tripe, count on BK chalking up the ‘squarebutts’ offensiveness to being meant for adults (it wasn’t ON the Kids Meal bag after all; it was only on prime time and during the NCAA playoffs)

They’ll predictably also say the “baby burger shots” are not meant to normalize peer attention coups over ‘baby bumps’ or teen binge-drinking as a two-fer (riiiiight, and ABC Family’s Secret Life and Greek have no influence on kids either, eh?)…BK is just trying to do their part and ‘think small’ like those cute  ‘sliders’ right?

Fair enough…then they wouldn’t be giving us whiplash with ‘upsize it’  bannered atop the loudspeaker in the drive through lane…And of course, if you THINK you’re ordering a small or healthy version of ANYthing, be aware that there are built-in defaults from the vendor side, and as I already mentioned, just asking for the picture doesn’t get you the picture…

This really stinks if you’re in a car with kids hoping to order by number in no questions asked mode.

By reciting the options in upsell/tradeout mode, they automatically put pester power into play, with wee ones squealing ‘puhleeeeeze’ when asked if they want fries or a shake…So don’t tell me BK is doing “family friendly” things for busy parents on the go. Bah.

Ahem, act now to help put a stop to this stuff…I’m vehemently anti-censorship but irked and fatigued by the lack of industry common sense spewing the ongoing crass, mind pollution that passes under the guise of  ”free speech.’  We’re ALL subjected to the ambient fallout when objectification permeates pop culture at regular intervals…and it’s nothing you can ‘turn off’ either.

So, congrats Burger King for dredging the depths to sink to a new low in the cesspool of badvertising: BK wins our ‘biggest loser’ award for consistency in tasteless tactics and toxic ethics.

Edging up on their square butts for shock schlock is trashy contender #2… Quiznos marketing “Toasty Torpedos” with sultry voices and crass tagline “put it in me” to compete in the value-meal sexualized innuendo category…

Supposedly Quiznos is attempting to undercut Subway’s $5 foot long subs and genuine marketing of healthier options…by positioning a dollar cheaper with their food porn.

subway-adWhy not support Subway, for their wholesome attempts to be nutritionally forthcoming and transparent so we can make up our own minds, hit BK and Quiznos in the wallet by taking your business elsewhere…

And sound off against this tacky pop culture pollution pervasively blanketing kids’ airspace.

We’re all choking on the fumes already, and we need more than just ‘junk food offsets.’

The price we pay to pollute our culture will ultimately cost us all.

Any more dumb marketing ideas that should be flame-broiled?

Send ’em our way…

In fact…maybe we should do a contest of ‘best and worst picks’ for media and marketing’s influence on kids!!

What do YOU think?

Shall we? Fire away!

SpongeBob SquareButts Burger King

Visual Credits: Spongebob lead photo the mishmash.com



  1. PER CCFC: Update today:

    “Our campaign to get the infamous SpongeBob SquareButts commercial off the air is gaining momentum.”

      More than 7,000 of you

    have told Nickelodeon and Burger King that SpongeBob and sexualization don’t mix and our campaign has been featured in newspapers, blogs, and on television — including this morning’s Today Show.”

    …”We’ve already cast an important spotlight on this reprehensible ad and the depths that marketers will sink to in order to interest children in their brands.

    …”Advertisers will now understand that they risk a significant backlash from parents if they include sexualization in their child-directed marketing. Burger King and Nickelodeon are clearly on the defensive, and are now disingenuously claiming the ad – which is for Kids Meals and features perhaps the most popular children’s television character – was aimed at adults.

    …”But the ad continues to run and, according to reports, aired this week on American Idol, a top-rated show for children under twelve.
    So let’s keep the pressure on. ”

    Please let others know about our campaign by using this tell-a-friend page or by writing directly to friends and family and urging them to visit:


    And please, keep spreading the word on blogs, social networking sites, and Twitter.

    Thanks, CCFC: The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

  2. Ugh, I’m having flashbacks of the Carl’s Junior sleaze and that gross flashback of Paris hawking herself in sexploitation as juicy meat herself…Bleh. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/30261432#30261432

  3. And here’s Joe Kelly’s interview on CBS news about it:


  4. Bob Somebody says

    I like it! There’s nothing sexy about a square butt, guys. Funny, yes. Sexy, no. Also, the ads are clearly aimed at adults, not children.

  5. My husband and I saw this commercial this past Saturday. Our immediate reaction was, “Is BK out of their minds?! Oh wait, they did have that Waking Up with the King commercial so maybe we should have expected this.” There’s just all sorts of mixed messaging in this new one. Spongebob would appeal to kids, but the Sir Mix-A-Lot song parody would probably not. They claim to be trying to attract adults, but I’m still not sure I completely buy it. Either way, pairing a popular cartoon with junk food isn’t sending a good message. As brilliant as people say the Burger Kind ad campaigns are, I still say “Boo! Rubbish!”

    Melanie M. Lazarus, MPH’s last blog post..Playnormous Rated Better than Hannah Montana

  6. Thanks, Melanie, as you know, I couldn’t agree more! I’ll be interviewing Susan Linn and the panel of Consuming Kids about this tmrw. night in Berkeley so stay tuned for more on their efforts as they’re gaining a lot of clout among parents and health educators sick of kids being sick!

    And hey, I like your headline, I’ll have to check your blog post out for certain!

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Shaping Youth Teen Team Reflects On Disneynature EARTH Premiere

  7. Oh, btw Melanie…are you going to the Games for Health conf in Boston in June???

    We wanted you to be among the first to know that SharpBrains has agreed to power a new Cognitive Health track at the 5th Annual Games for Health Conference. Alvaro Fernandez will host the 11-session track, which will include a variety of cognitive health and brain fitness topics and an overview of SharpBrains’ upcoming report The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009.

    When and where: June 11-12th at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel in Boston, MA.

    Context: The Games for Health Conference is produced by The Serious Games Initiative and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The conference brings together researchers, medical professionals, decision-makers at healthcare and insurance providers, innovators and game developers.”

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Shaping Youth Teen Team Reflects On Disneynature EARTH Premiere

  8. Well, here’s the thing Bob, there’s a huge difference between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexualization.’

    In this case, we’re talking the latter, as no one would deem squarebutts to be erotica…it’s the objectification and ongoing ‘booty as beauty’ bit that I’m taking issue with as it’s damaging girls’ sense of self in epic proportion…

    You might want to take a peek at our Body Image category and browse through the blog a bit. Then see if you’re still thinking it’s funny. (oh, and the ‘where it’s aimed’ is a bit irrelevant in our pop culture these days, as kids are in the ambient blast zone with these messages constantly…and THAT is where the toxicity and accountability needs to shape up.)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment regardless…

  9. The BK ad is child pornography, pure and simple.

    Play it slow motion if you ever had a question. Watching the creepy king leer over a preteen’s curvaceous butt isn’t supposed to be legal.

  10. I’ve been browsing around your blog for a while but I just had to comment on this post, great stuff!

  11. 10,000 letters and counting, yet they still carry on? Sheesh!!

    Joe Kelly ROCKS in this video face-off with Russ Klein of BK. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBPjWcbRBa8

    Here’s an update from CCFC:

    “Despite nearly 10,000 letters from CCFC members – many of whom say they will no longer eat at Burger King — and a host of bad publicity, the controversial SpongeBob SquareButts commercial continues to air. Burger King insists that the commercial for Kids Meals, featuring one of the most popular kids cartoon characters, is aimed at adults. They’ve yet to explain why the “adult ad” has run on American Idol, the top-rated show for children under twelve; on the ABC Family Channel on weekend mornings; or during a Sunday afternoon showing of the animated film Madagascar.

    Meanwhile, Nickelodeon has barely commented on the use of one of their most popular characters in a commercial that objectifies women. Given the recent announcement that Nick plans to make a tween version of Dora the Explorer, we can’t help but wonder if there is a trend to make Nick’s characters edgier in order to maintain their appeal to children as they grow up.”

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Project Green Prom Update: Summer Rayne & Teens Turning Green

  12. Nice post

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