It’s no secret that advertising is specifically geared towards a target audience, and that advertisers often use not-so-subtle patterns in order to appeal to these audiences. A prime example would be the use of gender stereotypes in fast food commercials, which often either appeal to male customers by portraying their food as “manly” or “meaty,” or to female customers by emphasizing the lack of preparation needed for the meal. Two examples of fast food commercials which play off of stereotypes in order to appeal to a specific audience are a highly-sexualized Carl’s Jr. ad and an innocent, family-oriented Kentucky Fried Chicken ad.
The first ad is set at a barbecue contest, and begins with a beautiful brunette woman wearing a bikini top and booty shorts walking up to a grill and beginning to cook pork, slathering the meat in barbecue sauce and licking her fingers in a slow and very sexual manner. Enter a blonde woman in a similar outfit, who stops at the same grill and places beef patties on it, challenging the first woman. As they fight for position, they push and shove each other with their hips, while the camera techniques frequently focus on the meat and the sweat on their torsos. Suddenly, a mound of pulled pork falls on one of the beef patties, and the two women look at each other, realizing that they accidentally created a masterpiece. Placing their creation on hamburger buns, they link arms and each begin eating in a way which strongly suggests a resemblance to lesbian pornography. Finally, the commercial focuses on two male bystanders who are staring at the women in awe, and one pulls out his phone and takes a photo.
One might argue that the commercial defies typical female stereotypes because of their rugged, country portrayal in the video and the way in which they grill the meat, which is a task traditionally reserved for men; in reality, however, the reason this is done is to appeal completely to the male audience. An old but still relevant study from Kent State University that examines the nature of interpersonal attraction would suggest that this advertising method would be ineffective, but the reason why this is false will be explained shortly. The study found that “a highly dominant person should be attractive to and attracted to a very submissive person,” a theory which can easily be applied to gender roles (Seyfried & Hendrick, 1973). The word “person” is strategically used in this claim, because it is possible for a relationship to consist of a dominant female and a submissive male, but in terms of your stereotypical patterns, it most directly applies to a dominant male and a submissive female. Despite this universally recognized law of attraction, however, the tactics used by the commercial in question are still effective; this is because the women in the video are meant to be viewed as sexual symbols, rather than potential partners. The purpose of the video is to disgustingly advertise Hardee’s new burger as a “man’s” meal, and if it were to portray women in the clean-cut and feminine role utilized by the KFC ad which will be analyzed shortly, it would simply detract from the “manliness” of the burger itself.
This type of fast food advertising goes both ways, too, with men being portrayed as kind and family-oriented in order to appeal to the female target audience. This can be observed in one of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s video advertisements in which a mother speaks directly to the viewer about how relieved she is at the fact that she doesn’t have to cook the family dinner, because she went to the fast food chain and picked up a meal instead. The way she says “Tonight, I am not mom, I am Paula” also implies that, by rejecting the common stereotype of women being expected to cook dinner, she is regaining her individuality. It should also be noted that, unlike the Carl’s Jr. commercial, she is conservatively-dressed and strikes the viewer as more of a human than as a sexual object. Meanwhile, the father sits happily at the dinner table, interacting playfully with the children, and for the most part appears to be in his own little world as he thoroughly enjoys the chicken. He makes no special effort to appear “manly” or “tough,” because, since this particular commercial is targeted towards housewives who are often imagined doing domestic chores such as meal preparation, the dad gives off a more domestic vibe in order to appeal to this. When asked by one of the children what the meal makes him (since mom is “not mom”), he simply replies with “dad,” implying that, unlike the mother, his role stays the same no matter how or where the meal is prepared. Overall, the commercial is more logical and realistic than the previously analyzed commercial, because it features characters and an atmosphere that is completely believable, rather than an incredibly staged scene which looks more like a man’s sexual fantasy or the opening to a pornographic video. This could likely imply something about what is effective towards certain audiences: men will be more compelled by something that will turn them on or make their mouth water, while women will be more compelled by what is easy and convenient for them.
It’s interesting how the patterns present in both of these commercials coincide so closely with the findings from a particular study titled “Gender Representation in Television Commercials: Updating and Update” in which gender-related trends in advertising are observed. This study focuses not specifically on fast food advertising, but on advertising in general. According to the findings of this study, women were more likely to be commercial representatives of domestic products and men were more likely to be commercial representatives of non-domestic products (Bartsch et al, 2000). It’s an interesting pattern that many don’t even notice, but almost always rings true; products that are associated with cooking, cleaning, or other household chores tend to feature a female actor or voiceover, whereas everything else tends to feature a male one. In this particular study, all fast food was classified as a domestic product, but these two examples of fast food commercials show that there are significant differences between the methods of advertising used and the target audience: as stated before, male advertising is more fantastical (as well as sexual), and female advertising is more realistic.
Similarly, more gender-related trends in these two commercials can be observed while considering the type of foods that are advertised (beef and chicken, respectively). In a 2002 study on food preferences, the results suggested that males have more of a preference for red meat while women have more of a preference for white meat (Kubberød et al, 2002). This trend, which isn’t difficult to see even without the data from this study, may offer a reason for why the burger commercial is so heavily geared towards a male audience and why the KFC commercial appeals to a more feminine, domestic member of the household. Perhaps this is due to gender stereotypes that have been so deeply ingrained into our culture that we hardly pay any notice to them anymore; as Emma White describes in her article, “Starved By Society,” “When we perform our genders we do so by strictly adhering to our society’s idealizations of what it means to fully embody femininity (and masculinity) at any given time” (White 319).However, whether these trends for meat preference is simply due to taste or genetic factors, or due to stereotypes that red meat is “manly” and white meat is lean and healthy, is up for debate.
Ultimately, though, even though both commercials play off of female stereotypes, Carl’s Jr. does so in a much more disgusting and degrading way; there features no indication that the women in the grill-off video have any original personality whatsoever, or even creativity or intelligence. I mean, they didn’t even think up their delicious creation themselves; it was created accidentally. This says a lot about the kind of message that the restaurant chain is trying to convey. The disgusting advertising techniques are apparent when examining the advertising trends for each of the two restaurants as well. For example, KFC features a variety of commercials that appeal to different audiences: men, women, parents, children, singles. On the other hand, Carl’s Jr. commercials are disturbingly similar to one another: a scantily-dressed, perfect-bodied female serving no purpose in the video other than to make the male viewers drool. Perhaps Carl’s Jr. should take a few notes on how to expand their audiences.
“Starved By Society”