Jack in the Box Just Launched One of the Most Tone-Deaf Ads of the #MeToo Era

Agency and brand defend focus on genital jokes in the workplace

The 'Jack's Bowls' campaign focuses on innuendo in the office. Jack in the Box
Headshot of David Griner

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.

Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box

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.”

Will you sell some bowls to bros? Probably, and they’ll perpetuate your lazy joke in their own workplaces.

There are viral campaigns. This one’s bacterial.


Agency: David&Goliath, LA
Founder & Chairman: David Angelo
Chief Creative Officer: Bobby Pearce
Executive Creative Director: Steve Yee
Associate Creative Director / Art Director: Sheldon Melvin
Associate Creative Director / Copywriter: Matt Kappler
Copywriter / Spanish Language: Mauricio Osorio / Camilo Bernal
Social Creative Director: Sara Buschkamp

Executive Producer: Kara Pierce
Senior Broadcast Producer: Juliet Diamond
Integrated Producer: Jesse Roberts

Group Planning Director: Donesh Olyaie
Senior Strategist: Janet Shih

Group Account Director: Dominique Branham
Account Director: Lisa Wong
Management Supervisor: Lindsay Brown
Account Executive: Sarah Light
Executive Director Business and Legal Affairs: Rodney Pizarro
Business Affairs Manager: Yenia Paez
Business Affairs Associate Manager: Marlon Pineda

Associate Director of Project Management: Genie Lara
Senior Project Manager: Amy Chiang
Project Manager: Kristin Puopolo
Project Coordinator: Cassandra Horne

Print Producer: Jenny Wu
Art Producer: Kathryn Zambon
Production Company: The Corner Shop
Directors: Peter Martin
Director of Photography: Corey Walter
Managing Partner, Executive Producer: Anna Hashmi
Executive Producer: Jay Shapiro
Head of Production: Jessica Miller
Tabletop Production Company: Lucky 21
Tabletop Director: Tom Ryan
Executive Producer: John Gilliland
Line Producer (Tabletop): Chelsea Tollner Sevadjian

Editorial House: Spinach
Editor: Cass Vanini (courtesy of Work Editorial)
Assistant Editor: Carmen Hu
Executive Producer (Post): Jonathan Carpio
Executive Producer (Post): Marlo Baird (Work Editorial)
Producer (Post): Patricia Gushikuma

Color: CO3
Colorist: Sean Coleman
Color Producer: Matt Moran

VFX Supervisor: Russell Fell
VFX Executive Producer: Rachel Koch
Mix Facility: Margarita Mix
Mixer: Nathan Dubin

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@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."