Friday, April 17, 2009

Has Burger King Gone Too Far with Spongebob "Square Butts" Commercial?

“The King”, Burger King’s mascot, likes square butts and definitely showed it in Burger King’s most recent controversial commercial. The commercial features The King dancing to a play-off of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

The commercial starts off with The King saying “I like square butts and I cannot lie.” Throughout the commercial women shake their rectangular shaped butts (even though the commercial refers to the shape as square), and The King walks around the video set just as Sir Mix-A-Lot did in the original video back in 1992. At the end of the commercial, Sir Mix-A-Lot says, “Booty is Booty,” and then you finally hear a 3 second blurb about the actual Burger King promotion. The commercial first aired during the 2009 Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament, and has brought about much controversy since the original airing.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has initiated a campaign to get Burger King to pull the commercial. Commercial-Free’s Director Dr. Susan Linn said, “It’s bad enough when companies use a beloved media character like SpongeBob to promote junk food to children, but it’s utterly reprehensible when that character simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women.”

Burger King has since released a statement addressing the commercial. "The 99-cent BK Kids Meal is a value-based offer aimed at adults and requires an adult BK Value Meal purchase. This value offering enables the entire family to enjoy an affordable quality meal. As with all Burger King adult advertising campaigns, the SpongeBob commercial featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot's famous song airs only during shows targeting adult audiences, and with the King and a popular '90s rapper as the headliners, is meant to appeal to the adults who take their families to Burger King restaurants for good food and entertainment. This commercial is intended to show that even adults can have fun, laugh and be silly with entertainment genres -- such as rap and pop culture icons -- that have become part of everyday life. We also developed a second, completely different SpongeBob advertising campaign for kids, which is currently airing on kid-targeted programming."

The one thing for certain is that Burger King is a little late with creating commercials that target the adult hip hop community. McDonald’s has produces several “hip hop commercials targeted for adults.” The two that come to mind are the “McNuggets R&B Song” and “Happy Meal Cha Cha Slide” commercials. The “McNuggets R&B Song” has an R&B singing about why his female friend should share her McNuggets with him. The “Happy Meal Cha Cha Slide” commercial has a kid dancing to the Cha Cha Slide in his house while coming to the dinner table to join his family.

However, the big difference between McDonald’s and Burger King’s “hip hop commercials targeted for adults” is that Mickey D’s has taken the safe road with creating family friendly commercials. On the other hand, BK called upon Sir Mix-A-Lot most notable hit song “Baby Got Back” to help advertise their latest promotion.

So the question for you is “Has Burger King Gone Too Far?’ You be the judge. Check out the Burger King Spongebob Square Butts commercial and post your comments. If the 30 second version didn’t convince to head over to BK and get a 99 cent Happy Meal with your Value Meal purchase, give the 2:23 extended version a chance!

- Alvin C. Hathaway Jr.


  1. With lines like "been known to rock a thong" and "we keep it grungy," it is difficult to understand who the target audience is for this commercial. I think it is pretty clear that a 40 year old adult would be confused by the ad. That being said, the target audience must be children because of the overt use of Spongebob throughout the entire commercial. Singing about thongs and booty is an odd approach to use when selling kid's meals to children.

    Everyone will be glad to know that I found the BK advertising formula. This should help explain a lot:

    Sexual innuendo + outdated rap song + Spongebob = perfect way to sell garbage food to kids

    On a lighter note, I find it pretty funny that the original song glorified large butts and BK decided it was a good idea to sell its fattening food with this tune. Good work BK.

  2. Alvin this is a great article. I was actually having a conversation about this commercial yesterday. And I think BK went too far with this one. I don't even like the idea of using a sqaure butt to sell food. But BK really went to far when they had Sir Mix Alot saying "Booty is Booty". The commercial definitely didnt make me want to go to BK...and I definitely wouldn't go with my kids.

    FYI: Keep the articles coming always have great ones!!!!

  3. Excellent post Alvin. This commercial would be just fine in my book if not for the fact that it markets kids meals at the end.

    Still, I have to admit that I cracked up upon seeing it for the first time. BK has by far the funniest commericals of any fast food chain.

  4. i found the commercial odd. i always think the ads with "the king" in them are strange. but it did take me back to the 1990s and sir-mix-a-lot. while only remembered for "baby got back" sir-mix-a-lot had a number of creative releases prior to this smash.

  5. Creativity is one thing. Decadence is another. What happened to uplift and an appeal to our higher nature? BK's appeal is to our worst self. Critical analysis of what is occuring in our society is a unique gift that Alvin is displaying. Continue to critique, it makes us think!

  6. appealing to adults with sir-mix-a-lot and appealing to kids with a separate spongebob commercial to be shown on nickolodean seems suspect to me. some advertising executive somewhere had to approve this commercial as appropriate. and undoubtedly, children would see a commercial wih the king fixating on the "square butts" of a number of women shaking them for the camera. really?

  7. I'll offer a basic criticism.

    The commercial is disorganized and at the end of the commercial I don't know if I should be buying a BK burger, a Sponge Bob DVD, or a Sir-Mix-A-Lot tape. I think the ad gurus at BK erred here. My guess is we'll see it off the air shortly, on the order of the Jerry Seinfeld-Bill Gates Microsoft commercials.

    I come from a public affairs/government affairs background and I can't imagine this commercial ever getting off the ground.

    Maybe BK puts as little time into producing good food as it does into making appealing commercials.

  8. I am so glad I ran across this blog, what a great article. I agree with Nick's comment, this commercial doesn't get the call to action across to the consumer. I had no idea what it was a BK commercial for until the brief ending. BK can learn a lot from the McD's chicken nugget commercial, that was pretty clear it was about the nuggets.

  9. I know I'm supposed to think this ad is totally over the line, but I just can't help but find it hilarious. I also don't think it's aimed at kids, though I guess it's inevitable that kids will see it. I think it's aimed at people my age (30ish) with kids.

    I don't think it's worse than a lot of horrible beer and shaving/axe ads that kids will see if they're watching sports with their parents. Perhaps it should have been confined to viral internet campaign rather than actually shown on television.

  10. Stonestreet, thanks for the comment. I think you might be on to something with BK's advertising formula. I really have bounced back and forth trying to decide whether BK really wanted to advertise the commercial to adults or children.

    My best guess is that they were targeting 25-35 year old adults with small children. In hopes that the adults would find the commercial funny and as a result take their kids to BK. The kids will love the Spongebob stuff and everyone is happy. That's just my best guess.

  11. Nick, JMassuda thanks for posting.

    Another point to note is that BK has been known for making controversial, over the edge commercials. A couple come to mind. BK had a commercial, I believe last year, called "Whopper Virgins." A BK rep went around to remote parts of the world and did a taste test with the Whopper and BigMac. The commercial received some negative feedback.

    BK had another advertisement, where they offered to give a free Whopper to anyone that deleted 10 of their Facebook friends. That advertisement got pulled early due to pressure from Facebook.

    Recently, I was reading about a BK commercial played in Europe that was pulled off air. The commercial was advertising a Spicy Texas Burger. The basic plot was that a Texas cowboy put needed a roommate, so he put an ad in the newspaper. A short muscular Mexican wrestler comes to his home to fill the roommate spot. The commercial then shows the two living together; they both use there strengths to help each other out. The problem the Mexican stereotype portrayed in the commercial, and the Mexican wrestler was wearing the Mexican flag around his neck.

    If that is not bad enough the commercial ends something like, "A taste of Texas with a little spicy Mexican."

    I will search for those three ads and post them.

  12. Samquilla, I think you hit the BK commercial major issue on the head. It is not that the commercial is the worst thing to ever be shown on TV, because as you pointed out there are arguably worst commercials for kids.

    I think BK's problem is that they had too many red flags which put it in the controversial category, (ex. song about butts, mature lyrics, use of a beloved cartoon character, involves a kids meal, etc.)

    But I have to admit I found the commercial pretty funny as well and catchy. BK's "i like squarebutts" song version has been stuck in my head since I wrote the article.

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  14. Here are the links I promised.

    Burger King Texican Whopper Commercial

    Whopper Virgins Commercial

    Full Length Whopper Virgins Documentary

    Whopper Facebook Sacrifice

  15. Thanks for the YouTube Videos and Links. I didn't realize how many questionable commercials and advertisements BK has had within the last two years.

  16. The fact that this commercial was originally aired during Saturday morning cartoon shows (Madagascar) reveals the true of intent of Burger King. Not until the public outrage did the fast food giant change the times the commercial would be shown. Trying to advertise to 30 year olds? Laughable.

  17. Very nice for kids I love spongebob.


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