Targeting Women – Fast Food Advertising




In today’s modern world, there are many ways for different segments of consumer society to be reached through various methods of target niche advertising.  In some cases the target niche is portrayed in a positive light, while in others, that specific market segment may be targeted with some negative connotations.  The ways in which many different fast food chains choose to advertise their goods and services are very interesting to me.  Generally, the women and men featured in these ads are slim and attractive.  The food becomes an object that is sexualized through the discourse of the ad.  These actors/actresses/models are often portrayed as the typical and ideal customer of various chains, and look attractive and powerful while doing so.  However, there are many things that are not addressed in these advertisements, including the gender norms associated with being feminine or masculine and the realities of the fast food industry, among others.  I am choosing to critique these ads because I feel that these ads try to appeal to a demographic that is too vast.  The ads feature attractive, slim women, often sexually positioned with their fast food items.  The reality of fast food consumption is not sex appeal, which is exactly what the ads pictured above are conveying.

Goldman, Heath, and Smith write about “commodity feminism,” a term that explains the ways in which advertisers endow certain meanings of femininity onto certain products and brands.  The physical act of consuming fast food is not something that is culturally more masculine or more feminine, but in many advertisements like the ones pictured above, traditional female gender roles are truly exemplified.  In the Carl Jr’s commercial, Kate Upton is portrayed as the quintessential sexy blonde bombshell.  She is thin, but still voluptuous; she is elegant, but still manages to devour a sandwich with jalapeno peppers, meat, and cheese in a way that keeps her composure.  Modern fast food advertising is attaching the idea of sex appeal to fast food and turning it into a commodity.  Women, no matter their size, appearance, or sexuality, will see these advertisements.  Goldman, Heath, and Smith note that advertisers are featuring women that they believe maintain the ideal feminine image in order to attract the feminine consumer.  Kate Upton is clearly experiencing some sort of sexual pleasure as a result of consuming the Carl Jr’s sandwich, and this advertisement is targeting the women who may have previously felt that large sandwiches are more “manly.”  This ad make its very clear that a huge sandwich can be very sexy on a woman as well.  This is also true of the Hardee’s ad, which is the third image above.  The advertisement makes a play on words by making the connection between worldwide beauty pageants contestants and consuming fast food.  It is not typical of pageant contests to consume anything unhealthy, but by creating this unrealistic parallel, woman are attracted to the turkey burger because it is seemingly a healthier option.

In the article, “The Rhetoric of the Image,” Roland Barthes explains the semiotic analysis of advertisements.  Ads are made up of the signifiers and the signified.  The signifiers are the images themselves and the signified is what it means, which can be culturally specific.  In the second ad pictured above, a woman is shown with her mouth open ready to eat a large seven-inch sandwich from Burger King.  This ad is real, and was run in Asia before receiving criticism from the agency at which it was created.  On a connotative level, we see an open mouth, a sandwich, and text reading, “It will blow your mind away.”  On a denotative level, the text paired with these two images has an extremely sexualized implication.  The word “blow” carries the idea of oral sex, and the way in which the woman is positioned ready to receive the sandwich is indicative of sexual behavior.  Not only is this advertisement on the inappropriate side, but it also implies that sexual behavior is associated with the Burger King brand.  This ad manages to reflect the logic of capital (Goldman & Papson) by encouraging the purchase of low-cost large sandwiches in exchange for some sort of sexual reward.  This ad was eventually removed.

Goldman and Papson also write about the ways that advertising carries ideology through culture in their article, “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” They explain that ideologies often suppress inequalities, contradictions, and injustices.  In the case of all the ads for Carl Jr’s and Hardees, the women that are featured are beautiful and thin.  This is a contradiction in and of itself.  Fast food menu items, especially cheeseburgers, have more calories than almost any other type of food.  Eating this many calories in a setting where the food is mostly fried and the low-cost manufacturing of the ingredients does not correlate to a “hot” body and glowing skin.  These ads are promoting a normative vision that fast food can have a beneficial effect on appearance and overall quality of life.  This can be true in the fleeting sense, as fast food temporarily satisfies hunger, but the aftermath of a fast food meal is often discomfort, weight gain (if on a frequent basis), and a crash in energy.  Heidi Klum is the exception to the rule, as the saying goes.  She is the fashion industry’s idea of fit and beautiful, but the fashion industry and the fast food industry do not work hand in hand.


In the article, “Culture Jamming” by Kalle Lasn, he discusses the ways in which groups of people that participate in culture jamming find ways to creatively appropriate brand images and identities for subversive means.  He notes that junk food is one of the biggest advertisers on television today, and culture jammers try to “contaminate junk food in the public mind.”  This could be don through posters, videos, memes, etc.  The overall goal is to “uncool” fast food, and expose the truths behind its processing and production.

In my proposal for a spoof target video, I will feature both a man and a woman that are not conventionally attractive according to society standards and mass media.  The man will be slightly overweight and not athletic, and the woman will be very overweight wearing clothing that exposes the imperfections in her body.  The woman will try to sexually eat her fast food meal in order to impress the man, but as a result of her larger figure, she breaks the chair she is sitting on and the food falls to the floor.  This is not meant to be offensive, but it is poking fun at the sexualized imagery in fast food advertising today.  Consuming foods covered in oil and high in fat is not something to be admired, nor is it healthy by any means.  Fast food is generally the most appealing to people with fairly low income as well as people who are not well educated about the health risks associated with its consumption.  This is not always the case, but the stereotypes are true to an extent.  This spoof will prove that women who know the calorie count and health risks of fast food will avoid consuming fast food, regardless of how “hot” the model in the advertisement may be.  The sexualization of consuming fast food is not only demeaning to women, but it also encourages unhealthy consumption behavior as well as unrealistic body image expectations.



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