Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, juvenile humor is still OK. Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” spot is still just as funny, charming and joyously silly as it was in 2013.
What’s not OK, especially after all the tales of hostile work environments that have been highlighted by the #MeToo movement, is an ad that celebrates sexual innuendo in the workplace, which is exactly what Jack in the Box and agency David&Goliath have done with a new ad called “Jack’s Bowls.”
The spot, which is basically a minute of incessant genital jokes, promotes the brand’s new teriyaki bowls by having fictional executive Jack reference them as testicles. “You’ve got some pretty nice bowls there,” Jack tells a male colleague, “but so does Dan.” A female employee then also compliments Dan on his “nice bowls.”
In perhaps its most telling moment, the ad tries to go meta by having a lawyer explain to Jack that the campaign is inappropriate, but (in a commendably accurate portrayal of male executives), he doesn’t understand what the fuss is about.
In a joint statement, the brand and agency defended the spot, telling Adweek that the ad is not referencing the high-profile #MeToo movement, which has raised awareness of how women across multiple industries face hostile work environments due not only to direct sexual harassment but also to “boys’ club” culture typified by sexual innuendo and off-color humor in professional environments.
“This ad is a creative and humorous expression around the teriyaki bowl, highlighting how a burger brand such as Jack in the Box has the guts—or ‘bowls’—to go beyond the usual and serve something other than burgers,” says the joint statement from Jack in the Box and David&Goliath to Adweek. “This ad is not diminishing any movement, and we stand firmly against any form of harassment and value those who have the guts to combat it.”
As part of the campaign, trucks wrapped with a “Only Jack Has the Bowls” message will park near competitors such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Carl’s Jr.
The creatives certainly had no shortage of ball jokes. In the ad’s YouTube summary, the brand included 13 more taglines, including “Taste my bowls,” and “Get your hands on my bowls.”
Much like with Pepsi’s bumbling foray into Black Lives Matter, one has to wonder about the conversations that lead to an ad like this. Did no one raise a flag? Or did they, only to get shot down as prudes and PC worrywarts? Is it simply tactical baiting of controversy—or, phrased more simply, trolling?
In case it needs to be spelled out, here’s the insidiousness of frequent off-color, sexualized humor in the workplace, especially when perpetuated by executives: It puts employees—most often women, though certainly members the LGBTQ community and honestly anyone with mature sensibilities—in the unwinnable dilemma of either complaining (making them outcasts in their own workplace) or quietly tolerating it and being enablers of a toxic environment.
Can creatives still make genital jokes and sexual innuendo? Sure. Advertising has rolled out quite a few good ones in recent years, including Australian agency Clemenger BBDO’s hilariously anthropomorphized testicles, spokesballs for Bonds underwear who bemoan their abuse by uncomfortable undergarments or jarring situations.
But when you find yourself reaching for a genital innuendo just because you can, then choosing to place it in a workplace, having it come from the boss and even dropping in a lawyer to sorry-not-sorry acknowledge what a tone-deaf idea this is, then the focus is no longer on your food. Instead, you’re putting your workplace culture on display and saying, “We think this is totally OK in the office.”
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